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.