2/21/2013 11:24:00 AM Law enforcement taking a wait and see stance for now on Nienow drone bill
BY DENISE MARTIN
A bill that local state senator Sean Nienow has introduced in committee, restricts use of drone technology by Minnesota law enforcement.
Sen. Nienow says he just wants to make sure drone-based evidence gathering and investigative restrictions get into law sooner than later so he put a bill into the hopper to meet committee deadlines this session.
Drones are un-manned craft controlled remotely and can be equipped with recording devices and cameras, among other things. Law enforcement, under Nienow’s bill, would be restricted to only being able to use the un-manned units when Homeland Security officials have deemed there is a real threat to national security, or when there’s an “imminent danger” to the public.
Senator Nienow, R-Cambridge, was interviewed on MPR’s Daily Circuit Friday, Feb. 15. He stated that he doesn’t want law enforcement to be able to fly drones anywhere they wish and, “...just peer into your backyard.” Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan said he’s preliminarily familiar with the bill but is not ready to give it support or opposition. He’s withholding an opinion until the MN Sheriff’s Association reviews the language.
Sheriff Duncan tells the Press that drones are really “not an issue” and he hasn’t heard of drone-related mis-use being alleged. The sheriff said he’ll watch the Nienow bill as it moves through committees and the wording is revised and might comment later.
Sen. Nienow stated when questioned by MPR host Phil Picardi, that he hopes to pass the restrictions on drone use law this session. He feels the question of drone use for investigations is a very timely issue and said he prefers to get “ahead of it” and introduced the bill before having any substantive discussions with law enforcement.
“The better approach (to the issue) is to set limits from the get-go,” Nienow explained, rather than having drone-related complaints end up in the courts once “expectation of privacy” are alleged to have been violated. Nienow said drones could certainly be useful if there’s a search and rescue operation underway, or if a specific outcome is sought.
But, he added that he opposes law enforcement “just flying them around making sure we’re not getting into any trouble.” The radio host asked about why drone use is singled out to avert invasion of privacy when other technologies are used in surveillance and evidence-gathering, like GPS devices attached to vehicles or random security cameras on-the-street. Sen. Nienow said drones are robot-like and there is a “creepy factor” about them. He added, “I think it(the bill) will have broad right and left support.”