In an effort to balance public safety with individuals’ privacy rights, the Public Safety and Security Committee has introduced legislation that would allow law enforcement and other government officials to use drones in emergencies, while also requiring police to obtain warrants and to register drones before using them to surveil members of the public. Legislators will consider H.B. 5274 during a Public Safety and Security Committee hearing on Tuesday, March 1.

David McGuire, Legislative and Policy Director for the ACLU of Connecticut, will testify in support of the bill.

“Right now, drones are the wild west of technology: Connecticut has zero laws in place to regulate drones,” McGuire will tell the committee. “Whether police are using a technology that is one hundred years or one hundred days old, people need and deserve to have their rights protected. Just as it is unconstitutional for a police officer to walk through your house without a warrant, it should be unconstitutional for police to videotape your family by sending a drone up to your window.”

H.B. 5274 is similar to legislation that passed the Connecticut Senate unanimously in 2015. In 2016, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is expected to ease restrictions on drones, opening U.S. airspace to more drones. To date, the FAA reports that 325,000 people have registered to use drones in the United States. Currently, fifteen other states require police to obtain a warrant before using a drone for surveillance.

On February 29, McGuire will also testify before the Public Review and Investigations Committee regarding S.B. 148, a narrower drone bill pertaining only to whether operators can equip drones with weapons. During that hearing, McGuire will encourage legislators to instead support H.B. 5274 as a broader, more far-sighted alternative with greater privacy protections.

In addition, McGuire will note: “The ACLU of Connecticut supports S.B. 148’s ban on the public weaponizing a drone, however, we are troubled that the bill does not prevent the police from weaponizing drones. At a time of unprecedented tension between communities and law enforcement, we strongly suggest that this bill be amended to include the law enforcement weaponization ban provision from last year’s bill.”

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