As anxiety about domestic-drone use continues to mount, at least 30 states are weighing new laws that would regulate them. A Rhode Island proposal is among the best, according to Allie Bohm at the ACLU. Unlike her, I haven't read every bill introduced by a state legislature. But I have read the bill the Ocean State is mulling, and many of its provisions deserve wider attention. I'd be thrilled if something with this many civil-liberties protections was actually passed and enforced.
What's to like?
1. Drone-strike free zone: The proposed law states outright that "unmanned aerial vehicles shall not be equipped with weapons."
2. No drone proliferation without representation: Law enforcement would be prohibited from purchasing drones or receiving military hand-me-downs on their own initiative: "Unmanned aerial vehicles shall be acquired only after a public hearing and, for any state law enforcement agency, approval by the governor, and for any municipal law enforcement agency, approval by the city or town council overseeing that agency seeking such acquisition." Put simply, there would be an identifiable elected official to hold accountable.
3. Strict application requirements: To use drones for surveillance purposes, state and local agencies would submit an application to a judge that includes (1) the identity of the person seeking to use a drone; (2) why he or she wants to use a drone, including details about the alleged offense, where the surveillance would take place, and the target; (3) an account of why a less intrusive alternative to drones cannot be used instead; (4) a time-limit on the proposed surveillance; (5) disclosure to the judge if attempts have been made to surveil the same person or location on a prior occasion; (6) and "an affirmation that the unmanned aerial vehicle shall ... collect data only on the designated target ... and shall not use facial recognition or any other biometric matching technology on non-target data."