Politics

February 27, 2013

Maine bill seeks to regulate police use of drones

The bill would limit the ability of law enforcement to use drones and require a warrant in most cases.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Drones

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Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, testifies in favor of L.D. 236, An Act To Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use, before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Christopher Taylor, president and drone designer for Viking Unmanned Aerial Systems, of Limington, talks about his company's FR-Xtreme drone model, which is on table, on Tuesday at the State House in Augusta.The company's website calls it a "Vertical Take-Off and Landing Commercial Quad Copter built to serve multiple industries."

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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TRACKING USE OF, RESTRICTIONS ON DRONES

• The most popular consumer drone on Amazon.com is the 22-inch-long Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter, available for $295.77 with free shipping. It can be controlled by tilts from a smartphone or tablet, capturing high-definition video and pictures. However, it has only a 165-foot control range.

• But a 27-foot-long Predator drone, often the military's weapon of choice overseas in strikes, costs $4.5 million, The New York Times reported in 2009. They're powered by a high-performance snowmobile engine and are flown with joysticks, often from trailers halfway around the world, the newspaper said.

• The looming loosening of federal restrictions pertaining to drone use in 2015 has led to some optimistic predictions about the industry. Figures published in the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle in November 2012 say the global market should nearly double over a decade, from $6.6 billion to $11.4 billion, with $2.4 billion alone in America.

• There's a "drone caucus" in Congress: the 60-member House Unmanned System Caucus. The Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle said those lawmakers have helped speed up drones' entry into domestic markets. And from 2008 to 2012, those lawmakers got $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions, the newspapers reported.

• In August 2012, the Institute for International Studies counted 807 military drones in active use worldwide, and their figures were published by the Guardian, a British newspaper. The United States had 679 of them. India was second, with at least 38. However, the figure was an underestimate, as full totals don't include Russia, China and Turkey.

Federal rules allow for everyone to fly drones below an altitude of 400 feet. Shenna Bellows, the ACLU of Maine executive director, said the potential for drones to become ubiquitous in law enforcement compels the state to develop limits.

"Without the kinds of limits proposed by (the bill), even law-abiding people will be chilled in their movements," she said. "Unfortunately, cheap technology and a change in the federal rules make the specter of backyard surveillance a real and terrifying possibility."

While citizens can legally use drones, the aircraft are best known for their lethal use in overseas military operations.

President Obama has been criticized for his use of a "kill list" -- a list of high-profile terrorist targets the president holds final judgment on before attacking, The New York Times has reported.

The Associated Press recently reported that a recently surfaced Justice Department memo "shows drones can strike against a wider range of threats, with less evidence, than previously believed."

A 2011 strike in Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who joined al-Qaida, setting off a moral debate about drones' use on citizens abroad. Many in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, have advocated for a court that would review strikes before they happen.

"Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner all in one is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country," King said at a Feb. 7 congressional hearing.

Last year, Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration to allow military, commercial and privately owned drones in currently commercial airspace by 2015. The FAA has said that within five years of that date, there could be 10,000 domestic drones in use in America. By 2030, there could be 30,000.

An interactive map from the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which obtained a list of entities that have been authorized to use drones, shows the closest licensed drone to Maine is used by the University of Connecticut for research. It's a 6-foot, remote-controlled helicopter, according to Hartford Courant.

But that doesn't mean there are no drones in Maine airspace.

One Portland company advertises on its website that it offers aerial photography using drones, suggesting that the technology can be an effective tool for marketing real estate or capturing aerial images for other commercial purposes.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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Additional Photos

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State Sen. John Patrick introduces L.D. 236, An Act To Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use, before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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This April 27, 2012, photo shows the Draganflyer X6 helicopter in Seattle. A proposal by state Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, would limit the ability of Maine law enforcement to use drones and require a warrant in most cases.

AP

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Lt. Col. Raymond Bessette, deputy chief of the Maine State Police, testifies during a public hearing on L.D. 236, An Act To Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use, before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, head of the criminal division, testifies during a public hearing on L.D. 236, An Act To Protect the Privacy of Citizens from Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Use, before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

  


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Today's poll: Drones

Should law enforcement agencies be required to obtain a warrant before using a drone to gather information?

Yes

No

View Results

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