Law Enforcement, Higher Ed Oppose Drone Bill


Rep. Rick Becker is sponsoring HB1373, which would regulate the use of surveillance drones in North Dakota by requiring that law enforcement get a warrant before using them as part of a criminal investigation.

The bill got a hearing before the Judiciary Committee today where law enforcement and higher education officials showed up to oppose the bill. Rep. Becker was gracious enough to talk a little with me about what their objections to the bill are:

According to Becker, law enforcement argues that this bill will hinder their ability to use drones effectively for legitimate public safety reasons. But Becker points out that there are exceptions in the law to allow for the use of drones in exigent circumstances, such as searching for a missing person or responding to a natural disaster. He also wonders why it’s such a burden to law enforcement to get a warrant before using the drones as a part of a criminal investigation.

Also, a representative from the University of North Dakota testified against the bill arguing that it might put their federal research grants in jeopardy. UND, with assistance from Senator John Hoeven, is host to a unmanned aerial vehicle “center of excellence” where they research the technology. UND feels this bill may signal that the State of North Dakota is hostile to drones, but Becker this morning submitted an amended version of his bill providing an exemption for drone research.

At this point, there is a push to delay this bill for two years by putting it out for study, but Rep. Becker says that’s unnecessary. “What are they going to study?” he asked me.

Good question, but the question may not be “what are they going to study” so much as how long they can delay in order to establish drone use in law enforcement practice and make any common sense limitations harder to implement.

Update: Here’s a report on the committee hearing from the AP:

Jerry Kemmet of the North Dakota Peace Officers Association opposes the idea and called for more study. He says banning the use of drones limits law enforcement.

University of North Dakota Vice President for Research Phyllis Johnson also opposed the bill. Johnson says the legislation could have a negative impact on drone research at UND. She says it may prevent the university from being selected as 1 of 6 national test sites under consideration by the federal government.

Mr. Kemmet is flat-out wrong. The use of drones wouldn’t be “banned,” it would be regulated. Law enforcement would have to get a warrant. What’s so bad about that?

As for UND, there is now an amendment to the bill to specifically allow the sort of research they’d be conducting.

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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  • camsaure

    There again the progressives don’t want that pesky constitution to get in their way.

    • Rob

      I don’t know that this is progressivism so much as just law enforcement wanting fewer restrictions on their power.

      It’s a good lesson about law enforcement opinions on these sort of bills not being infallible. Like any other branch of government, they’re prone to wanting more power and more money than they need.

  • The Whistler

    It should be 100% legal for citizens to monitor the police, on and off duty, with drones.

    • slackwarerobert

      Don’t forget your local scum. We had a rep with revoked license I would love to have videod driving, you know they don’t obey the law, or they wouldn’t be stopped for drunk driving for a firth time.

    • yy4u2

      That is spot on. Just like law enforcement generally is opposed to citizens with guns, they would probably be without jobs as well with citizen run drones. I wouldn’t trust law enforcement as far as I can throw them. And I’m a small guy.

  • slackwarerobert

    Maybe they will study the constitution that makes you SAFE from unreasonable searches. All they have to do is put the drone in space, and they are exempt from the laws. Of course chain of evidence will be a bugger first time they nab a LAC with a brain.

    • Rob

      All they have to do is put the drone in space, and they are exempt from the laws.

      Maybe, but then satellites can’t track you and respond as quickly as drones can.

      This is a common sense protection for privacy. There’s no good reason to oppose the bill, or delay its passage.

  • ND Observer

    This is a poorly thought out bill that would treat the use of unmanned aircraft significantly different than manned aviation, which law enforcement has been using for decades, and the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed. The plane is the difference, not the cameras and sensors. The difference is without a pilot a plane does not have to come back down after a couple hours for a potty break. Why should a UAS be held to a different standard than a plane? It does not make sense.

    • Hal414

      “Why should a UAS be held to a different standard than a plane? It does not make sense.”

      For the same reason that the US Supreme Court has ruled that GPS trackers require a warrant. Different capabilities require a different standard.

    • Rob

      Drones are significantly different than the other aerial technology currently available, so they should be handled differently.

      Buy what’s so bad about having to get a warrant?

      • Hal414

        The only reason you wouldn’t like the warrant requirement is if you planned on spying on everyone as you looked for a crime. There is no legitimate reason to oppose the warrant requirement.

  • matthew_bosch

    Oh no, the police have to build a case and take it in front of judge before they spy on you? At that pace, criminals will run rampant. You know, like all those years before we had UAVs…

  • jimmypop

    should we require warrants for cameras on police cars?

    • Rob

      That’s not the same thing is it?

    • slackwarerobert

      If they are parking them in my yard to spy on me yes.

  • Hal414

    Rep. Becker is right to place proper governmental limits on the use of drones in this state. What is wrong with requiring warrants before engaging in high tech spying on North Dakota residents?

  • Lynn Bergman

    All Rick’s law needs is an exclusion for research & development purposes. Meanwhile, the media reports that President Obama likely has implemented a litmus test for all higher level military promotions:

    “Would you fire on American civilians if ordered to do so by the chain of command?”.
    If the answer is yes, you get promoted…

    • slackwarerobert

      Why? You can’t go to a judge and get a court order to test drones?

      • Hal414

        This bill wouldn’t require any court action to test drones, it only requires it for its use in a criminal investigation.