Despite Claims That It’s Anti-Law Enforcement, Drone Bill Passes ND Legislature


Rep. Rick Becker’s bill, HB1373, which would require law enforcement obtain a warrant before conducting surveillance on private citizens got a lengthy and often heated debate on the floor of the House today. At one point, Rep. Mike Nathe said that the bill is “anti-law enforcement” and “appeals to the black helicopter crowd.”

“I trust law enforcement,” said Rep Nathe asserting that there’s “no evidence of law enforcement violating any rights.”

The question is, do we have to wait until law enforcement violates someone’s rights, until law enforcement does something we’re uncomfortable with, before we put in sense reasonable protections of our privacy? It’s not a matter of not trusting police – our founders didn’t trust the police which is why we have the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments – but a matter of protecting the people from unreasonable infringements upon their privacy.

Here’s Rep. Nathe’s comments, and you can watch the full debate here.

It’s worth remembering that HB1373 was amended in many ways from its original forms. Law enforcement is allowed to use drones without a warrant in exigent circumstances (natural disasters, fleeing criminals, etc.). Exemptions have been put in place for border enforcement and research of the sort that is to be done at the University of North Dakota (you’ll notice most of the opposition came from Grand Forks-area legislators). What the bill requires is that law enforcement, before using a drone as a part of a criminal investigation, get a warrant.

Now, the law enforcement folks say this is silly. They say that they already have airplanes and helicopters, the use of which don’t require warrants, so why put this requirement on drones? The the obvious response to that is to point out that drones are something different than helicopters and airplanes (otherwise, why would we waste money buying the drones?). They have capabilities, both current and emerging, which go far beyond the resources law enforcement has currently.

So what’s the harm in requiring a check, in the form of a requirement for a warrant, on law enforcement’s use of drones?

It’s common sense, which is clear from the way the bill passed by a roughly 2-1 majority despite the heated objections from some.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • RCND

    “Now, the law enforcement folks say this is silly. They say that they already have airplanes and helicopters, the use of which don’t require warrants, so why put this requirement on drones?”

    What they don’t mention is aircraft can’t operate below a thousand feet over a city or 500 feet in rural areas. That airspace is regulated by the federal government and thus yes they can operate freely there without a warrant. Drones can easily go below that and not run into significant safety issues. Most law enforcement agencies in the state also can’t afford a plane. Drones are a lot cheaper and you can put all kinds of toys on them for surveillance work that won’t necessarily work from a plane or even a helicopter.

    • Rob

      Those are really good points.

  • headward

    I chuckled at this one since some law enforcement hate to be filmed by citizens but they want to have drones to spy on them without warrants.

    • Rob

      Yes, exactly.

      But I don’t think it’s fair to compare the private sector to the police. The cops can put me in jail. The private citizens cant’.

  • Mike Peterson

    My hearing kind of sucks, what did Corey Mock have to say about the bill?

    • Rob

      He said it was glad it came to the floor, but he questioned why we needed it since airplanes, etc. can already fly over homes and take pictures.

      • whowon

        also thought it was putting the cart before the horse, should just do a study now. Wrong Corey.

        • Hal414

          Mock is a buffoon. There are already drones flying the ND skies conducting surveillance. How long does he think the legislature should wait before addressing that fact?

          The horse is long gone, the legislature is trying to get caught up and should continue to study the issue to see what other restrictions are needed.

  • Yogibare

    The tehnology installed in drones takes the surveillance a notch further than many of us are comfortable with. A unit in the sky capable of watching our every move–even at night? If there is a right to privacy we may be challenging it.

  • Hal414

    So, the Grand Forks Sheriff opposes this bill because “manned aircraft are more capable” and we don’t require a warrant for them? Show me the manned aircraft that stays aloft over the target for 30+ hours? The weight of the sensor is totally irrelevant, the capabilities of the sensor and the length of the surveillance is what causes Constitutional issues. How would it be unlawful to use a drone for traffic control at the GF County fair? The bill clearly states it applies to criminal investigations. The Grand Forks Sheriff appears to be a liar, incompetent or both.

  • ec99

    I trust the police force, I don’t trust individual police. There are plenty of examples where officers, in order to close a case, viewed the Constitution as an inconvenient sheet of toilet paper. The fact is, too many of them have developed the mind set that all citizens are potential criminals, and they are, in the words of Joseph Wambaugh, the New Centurions.

  • Drain52

    Very good point, Rob. The founding fathers did not put blind confidence in either government nor its enforcers. I can’t fathom those who put total trust in any authority.