Utah bill attempts to balance privacy and government use of drones


By Miranda Collette

SALT LAKE CITY — The idea of using drones for video surveillance is not a new idea, but without a bill to regulate usage and protect public privacy, a fearful future is at stake.

An example of an unmanned aerial drone Photo Source: Clément Bucco-Lechat of Wikimedia Commons
An example of an unmanned aerial drone
Photo Source: Clément Bucco-Lechat of Wikimedia Commons

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Salt Lake City, the sponsor of the bill, applauded the use of drones and the money-saving aspects they propose for law enforcement. However he said that the main purpose of this bill is to protect citizen rights without stepping on the toes of state government progress.

“This bill does not intend in anyway to impede or frustrate the ability of the state to invest in and develop beneficial aspects of drone use,” said Stephenson. “This bill is a restraint on the use of this technology solely on law enforcement [by giving] them the tools they need to be more effective in their job, while protecting citizen privacy.”

According to Stephenson, the bill is simply broken down by the following three main elements:

  • Warrants: Requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before using, obtaining and receiving data acquired through a drone.
  • Data Retention: Requires law enforcement to destroy data within a reasonable period of time if the subject is not the target of the investigation.
  • Reporting: Reports must be made annually through the department of public safety to let the public know specific details of drone usage. (These details can be found in between line 102 and 114 of SB167S02).

Nine other states have passed bills regarding public privacy and drone usage. All those who testified in the Senate Government Operations Committee, on Feb. 25, were in favor of this bill and Utah becoming the next state to adopt regulations.

According to Marina Lowe, who represented the American Civil Liberties Union and the legislative and policy council of Utah, technological advances are occurring at lightning speed, making the protection rights included in this bill of the utmost importance.

Lowe said that the American Civil Liberties Union has played a role since the beginning, in outlining the specific privacy regulations that are now included in the bill.

“Every year we come up and work with legislators on pieces of legislation to try and meet the technical local advances …This bill I think definitely follows suit in making sure that Utahan privacy is adequately protected.” Lowe said.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 81 public entities have applied for drone use authorizations since October 2012, including  the Ogden Police Department

Stephenson said “[there are] many forward thinking police officers who have bought these drones, out of their own budget, because of their passion for their job.”

The governors office of Economic Development wants the public to realize that drones are a positive new technology in terms of efficiency and economically.

They also want the people to know that significant steps are being taken to show concern for Utahn’s 4th Amendment rights.

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