Seattle police officer Jim Britt demonstrates an unmanned aerial vehicle in 2012. / Colin Diltz, AP
CINCINNATI -- Privacy concerns over unmanned aircraft known as drones have united political groups that don't often see eye-to-eye.
Northern Kentucky Republican state Rep. Diane St. Onge has re-introduced a bill she filed for the previous General Assembly session that would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence without a warrant. The St. Onge has received support from the American Civil Liberties Union and Democrat Rep. Brent Yonts, who co-sponsored her bill last session.
"You have groups working together who you would not expect to agree on something," St. Onge said.
St. Onge pre-filed the bill for the 2015 session that begins in January. Like last year, she filed the bill early and hopes to get a hearing sometime in the summer or fall for lawmakers to learn more about it.
While the U.S. Constitution prevents warrantless surveillance, state lawmakers should get out ahead of the issue to protect privacy, said Kate Miller, program director for the ACLU in Kentucky. The court system has yet to set a clear precedent on drones for surveillance, she said. If states don't want to leave it up to the whim of a judge, they should act now, she said.
"Totally within the authority of state-level legislators to put additional privacy protections in place to look out for the constitutional rights of people," Miller said. "We don't have to wait for the courts to rule on this. If you use a drone, first you've got to get a warrant."
The bill allows businesses and colleges to use drones for research and business purposes. It also allows police and first responders to use drones for search and rescue and other purposes that don't involve collecting evidence.
So far, 14 states have passed laws limiting the use of drones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many others established task forces to study the issue.
In all, 43 states in 2013 and 35 states in 2014 considered bills related to drone use.
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