April 5, 2014 in City

Washington governor vetoes bill on drones, citing privacy risk

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed a bill that would have regulated the use of drones by government and police, saying it didn’t go far enough to protect privacy rights.

In its place, Inslee called for a 15-month moratorium on purchasing or using unmanned aircraft by state agencies for anything other than emergencies such as forest fires. He said he hoped local police chiefs and sheriffs would issue similar orders and the Legislature would take another run at the issue next year.

The proposal to regulate drone use had broad, bipartisan support in the Legislature along with backing from both the ACLU and the law enforcement community. Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, who helped shepherd the bill through the final days of the session, said he was surprised by the veto.

“We had worked with so many different groups, getting their input,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

The bill would have set standards for state and local government use of drones, with requirements for obtaining warrants when law enforcement used them for surveillance.

In striking down House Bill 2789, Inslee called it “one of the most complex bills we’ve had to analyze” and said the emerging technology of drones creates difficult issues for government. The bill had some conflicting provisions on disclosure of personal information, he added.  

“I’m very concerned about the effect of this new technology on our citizens’ right to privacy,” he said. “People have a desire not to see drones parked outside their kitchen window by any public agency.”

Sections of the bill dealing with exemptions to public record laws for some information gathered by drones could create a “major carve-out” to the state’s public records laws, Inslee added. 

Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, called Inslee’s veto disappointing and described the bill as “well-balanced and carefully considered.” His call for a moratorium will have little impact, she said in a prepared statement, because it still allows agencies to acquire drones and “includes no rules for their use after acquisition.”

Padden said legislators worked at balancing the rights of privacy with law enforcement’s needs to gather information on criminal activity.

“We thought there were some safeguards in there with the warrants,” he said. The bill required police to obtain a warrant from a judge for using drones the same way they would need a warrant for other types of surveillance.

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