AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage on Friday signed an executive order directing his public safety commissioner to come up with a policy for the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, by next February.
But an influential policy group that has been leading the charge against drones in Maine said the order doesn’t do enough.
Just two months ago, LePage vetoed L.D. 236, a Democratic-backed bill that would have banned law enforcement agencies from using drones for surveillance unless they had a search warrant. The governor said that bill went too far and would have led to lawsuits, but he also pledged to look at creating a policy.
“It is reasonable to ensure we have proper safeguards around the use of aircraft, whether manned or unmanned,” LePage said in a statement Friday.
Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, supported the legislation earlier this year and was disappointed by the governor’s veto.
“Mainers should not have to worry about warrantless law enforcement surveillance,” she said in a statement responding to the executive order. “We recognize there may be valid public safety uses for drones, but a warrant requirement would not interfere with law enforcement doing their jobs.”
Bellows said the ACLU of Maine looks forward to working with the LePage administration on a new policy but said, “Policy is not an adequate substitute for law.
“For that reason, we will continue working to put warrant requirements for drones into law,” she said.
The sponsor of L.D. 236, Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, has said that his measure did not prohibit the use of the drones but ensured individual constitutional rights.
“The Constitution provides reasonable standards for the use of warrants by law enforcement and our government to protect the rights of citizens against over-reach and abuse. These standards have worked well for over 200 years and should not be relaxed because of a new technology,” Patrick said in a statement Friday afternoon.
“I hope the Commissioner will work with groups that protect Mainers’ constitutional rights to balance the need for privacy with the need for law enforcement to use and operate drones.”
The bill generated support from Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, but was opposed by both sides, too, including LePage and Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills, a Democrat.
Mills said earlier this year that no police department in Maine has drones at the moment and she said the state should study the issue and consider legislation next year.
Law enforcement departments in other parts of the country have begun using drones for surveillance.
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: