Friday, September 01, 2017

Should Massachusetts require police to obtain search warrants to use drones for investigations?


Patrick M. O’Connor

State senator, Weymouth Republican

Drones are rapidly becoming a prevalent commodity in our society. The wide range of drone usages has led to some questions over the legal boundaries of this new technology, and whether it can infringe on our basic privacy rights. Currently, there is no legal framework for drone use on the federal level, leaving it up to the states to put these protections in place. That is why I have filed a bill to lay the groundwork in Massachusetts for the use of drones by law enforcement.

One of the most useful applications we have seen for drones is in public safety efforts. Drones can be an extremely useful tool in criminal investigations, as they can provide a much broader scope of the situation and ensure greater safety for police on the front lines. It is important that we establish clear, legal guidelines for police to effectively use drones while protecting our fundamental rights to privacy laid out in the Fourth Amendment.

Any criminal investigation that would require a warrant for surveillance should equally require a warrant for surveillance by drone. This would be a reasonable requirement that is in line with all other methods of surveillance during an investigation. Massachusetts needs a statute to address the cases that will inevitably arise from instances where an individual feels that his or her privacy has been violated.

Ultimately, Massachusetts needs a foundation for law enforcement to utilize drones. We also need the protection of civil liberties for those abiding by the law. Requiring law enforcement to obtain search warrants would legitimize drone use in criminal investigations while enhancing the effectiveness of this new technology.

This is a new and rapidly expanding technology, and I believe it is important to put some regulations in place before civil rights cases start to emerge and the technology is attacked. We need to make sure this doesn’t happen, because drones can be an invaluable asset to our law enforcement, such as in search and rescue missions or ensuring safety during large crowd gatherings. We need to be ahead of the curve with this growing technology by ensuring that it doesn’t go unchecked.


Christopher D. Delmonte

Bridgewater chief of police; president, Plymouth County Police Chiefs Association

Police chiefs and the men and women of Massachusetts law enforcement are keenly aware of and daily protect the core values and principles found in both our US Constitution and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. We are vigilant to balance effective modern policing strategies and respecting the public’s expectations of privacy. It is at the heart of our mission.

But I oppose legislation on Beacon Hill that would set restrictions on the use of drones by law enforcement, including the requirement to seek a search warrant. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are an emerging technology and relatively inexpensive tool for police to obtain information during an evolving critical incident. Accurate and timely information is invaluable for good decision making, and ultimately keeps people safe.

Traditionally, we have relied on helicopters from time to time, but their value is dependent on weather conditions and carries personnel risks and expenses. Publicly available online imagery can also be helpful, but that is a static commercially-based product that does not provide important finer details of the exact condition officers are facing. Smartphone maps in the field may also provide general overviews of the street and land area, but have little value in a rapidly changing and evolving incident.

Drones can be deployed quickly on scene by a single trained officer to remotely survey the scene of a violent encounter or missing person in the woods; search remote land areas, marsh, and waterways normally inaccessible or that pose significant risk to ground searchers; survey large areas devastated by a natural disaster to locate survivors or evaluate structural integrity; or simply survey a crime or crash scene with greater detail and accuracy.

We recognize this new technology raises legitimate privacy concerns that should be addressed, but drones cannot see through walls and only view what is already accessible generally to the public through other means. Burdening municipalities with unnecessary and unreasonably broad legislation will only have a chilling effect on an otherwise common sense public safety asset. If the technology is being abused, hold accountable those responsible. If there is a pressing need for legislation in this area, it is to fund proper training for its use.

Original article can be found here ➤

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