A bipartisan pair of lawmakers announced Tuesday that they would introduce legislation to require all government entities—from a federal agency to a local police department—to apply for a special license from the Justice Department before it can fly drones.
Currently, there are few privacy limitations on how individuals and the government can use drones. Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed an initial set of rules for drone operators, but it only addressed safety concerns.
Republican Ted Poe of Texas and Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California will introduce their bill for the third time. The pair's first two attempts failed to make it out of committee.
Under the measure, once a public drone operator has a license, the operator can use its drones to gather information for law enforcement—but only with a warrant. That's an important step for privacy advocates, who have long pushed for legislation that would limit police drone use.
"We will definitely support this bill," said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which also supported the bill when it was last introduced in 2013.
But the bill's warrant requirement is not without its caveats. Law enforcement can use drones without warrants if the drone is being flown within 25 miles of a land border, for example, or if the agency using the drone "believes an emergency situation exists" that involves organized crime or threatens national security.