The South Carolina state senate this week is considering a bill to virtually ban the use of drones without a warrant. It recently passed the state house unanimously, with a vote of 100-0.
Introduced in early 2013 by Reps. Hamilton, Delleney, Taylor, Putnam and Loftis, House bill 3514 (H3514) would prohibit the operation of drones by an agency of the state unless it is “pursuant to a criminal warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.”
While the bill’s co-sponsors are all Republicans, the unanimous approval in the House shows the widespread bipartisan support for putting restrictions on drone use, which is expected to grow by leaps and bounds in 2015. The ACLU has weighed in on the issue on a national level as well, warning that “unregulated drone use could pose serious threats to our privacy.”
The legislation does include some narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement to allay the fears of law enforcement officials who did not want to be hamstrung in emergency situations when a drone’s use might spell life or death.
Even so, the bill also sets strict standards governing the use of a drone when authorized. For one thing, the law would ban any sort of weapon from ever being mounted on a drone in South Carolina.
And after a drone was used, law enforcement officers will have to keep records on the results of their surveillance. Numerous sections of the bill would prevent law enforcement from keeping any drone-obtained personal information not relevant to a criminal investigation.
“We’re really just updating our laws to keep up with some of the technology,” the bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Dan Hamilton, R-Taylors, told South Carolina Radio Network. “The technology is changing rapidly. A lot of these companies that have sold them for use overseas are now marketing them domestically. I think, before things get out of hand, that we put a box around it and make they’re being used in the way they should be.”
Tenth Amendment Center national outreach director Amanda Bowers noted that South Carolina could join a growing chorus of states putting strict limited on drones. “Already, a number of states have passed similar bills into law, and we are expecting more in the coming weeks and months,” she said. “From California to Washington State, and from New York to Missouri, legislators and the general public from left to right want to see a dangerous future stopped before it happens.”
Bills were signed into law in 2013 in Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
H3514 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will first need to pass by a majority vote before the full Senate can consider whether or not to send the bill to Gov. Haley’s desk for a signature.