Drafting a bill to limit the use of drones by law enforcement agencies seems like legislation ahead of its time.
And that’s just the point, says one of the bill’s authors, State Rep. Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva.
“There was a time in the state when there weren’t laws about phone taps,” August said. “Because there were no phones.”
Now is the time to draft legislation on drones, August reasons, before they become an issue.
August, along with Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon) co-authored the legislation last summer. The bill is designed to protect personal privacy, August said, when a person has “a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
“If you’re at the Badger game, you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” August said. “But if you’re in your backyard with friends having a barbecue, I think the last thing that you want to see is a drone.”
The legislation does allow for warrantless use of drones when there is an emergency or potential for imminent harm to a person or evidence.
“This bill is a first step in taking back our privacy rights from ever-growing government,” Craig said when the bill was initiated.
There are similar drone bills in both state Senate and Assembly committees.
Ironically, August finds himself somewhat at odds with a group Republicans usually back, the state Department of Justice, and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, a group the GOP is rarely associated with.
During a hearing on the bill in January, the state Department of Justice expressed concern that the bill might outlaw evidence discovered by a warrantless drone in “purely public places.” As an example, what if a marijuana operation was discovered by a drone during a flyover of a state forest?
August said an amendment was added that would eliminate that concern. Still, the department has not given the bill its stamp of approval. In an interview in the Regional News, August said he isn’t sure what could be done to get that endorsement.
He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” of the bill’s passage citing support from the extremes of both parties.
Eighteen Republicans and 11 Democrats are co-sponsoring the legislation.