PHOENIX — A bill that would have required law enforcement agencies in
Arizona to get search warrants before using unmanned aircraft to gather evidence
was stripped Thursday of its key provisions and turned into a measure to create
a study committee on drone use.
The decision by Republican sponsor Rep. Tom Forese of Chandler to amend the
bill came after law enforcement voiced opposition to the legislation at a
committee hearing last month.
Forese said he’s also heard from economic development interests who told him
they were worried about the bill’s impact to the growth of the technology in
Arizona officials are hoping the state will be chosen for one of six drone test
sites around the country that the Federal Aviation Administration sought
proposals for last month. The agency is required by a law enacted a year ago to
develop sites where military and civilian drones can be tested in preparation
for integration into U.S. airspace.
Privacy advocates are worried that widespread drone use will infringe on civil
liberties and lead to constant surveillance of the public.
Thursday’s decision by Forese came a day after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul filibustered
the confirmation of CIA director-designate Richard Brennan over the
administration’s refusal to rule out using drone for attacks in the U.S. Sen.
John McCain, R-Ariz., ridiculed Paul’s concerns Thursday, and attorney General
Eric Holder sent a letter to Paul saying it would be illegal to use drones to
kill an American here.
The original bill requiring warrants also would require evidence collected
without a warrant to be thrown out in court. It contained exemptions allowing
drone use without a warrant. One comes into play if the federal Department of
Homeland Security determines drones are needed to prevent a terrorist attack.
The other kicks in when swift action is needed to prevent an escape, evidence
destruction or imminent danger.
Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, Florida and Hawaii have passed or introduced
Privacy concerns drove Forese’s bill, but he said Thursday he’s been convinced
that a balanced approach is needed. He said the study committee will look at
privacy issues created by the potential use of drones as well as the economic
development potential of the new technology.
Forese pointed to the state’s legacy with aviation and unmanned aviation in
particular at military based like Fort Huachuca.
“This is our legacy, this is our rightful opportunity,” Forese said. “But at
the same time it’s a new technology and there is a potential for issues with
privacy and the Fourth Amendment and I just think it’s worth due diligence.”
Forese amended the bill on the House floor Thursday afternoon and it then
passed the full House with little opposition. Another House bill on the same
topic never advanced out of committee.