TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nicholas J. Sacco that would set forth specific guidelines to be followed by law enforcement agencies when employing unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, for surveillance purposes cleared the full Senate today.
“Drone technology has many uses and benefits but it is still important that there are rules in place to ensure the safety and privacy of our residents,” said Senator Sacco (D-Hudson and Bergen) Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “This bill works to establish guidelines for law enforcement so they can do their jobs and utilize this technology in a responsible way that meets their public safety goals.”
The bill, S2310, prohibits law enforcement agencies from using drones to conduct surveillance, gather evidence, or engage in any other law enforcement activity unless:
a) Authorized by a search warrant;
b) The law enforcement agency has probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, and exigent circumstances exist making it unreasonable for the law enforcement agency to obtain a warrant;
c) The law enforcement agency has obtained the written consent from the subject of the search;
d) The drone is being used for certain statutorily defined search and rescue missions.
“The lines can easily get blurred when it comes to the issue of privacy, so this will help clear up any confusion,” said Senator Sacco.
The bill permits the Missing Persons Unit to utilize a drone for search and rescue missions, including but not limited to, locating high risk missing person or child or following a notification that a person is abducted or missing by an Amber Alert or Silver Alert. The bill also allows forest fire services to use drones to survey or monitor a forest fire, and for any fire department to use them to monitor the extent of a fire in situations when the drones can assist firefighters in obtaining information on the damage caused by the fire to a building or structure.
The bill includes documentation requirements that would call upon law enforcement agencies or fire departments to submit proof of annual inspection, maintenance records, and a statement of facts recording the purpose, usage, and surveillance results for each drone.
Privacy measures in the bill ensure that information derived from the use of a drone would be strictly safeguarded from the public or any third party, any records unrelated to the ongoing criminal investigation would be required to be discarded within 14 days, and any evidence obtained illegally through these devices would be forbidden from being used as evidence in a criminal prosecution.
In addition, drones would be prohibited from being equipped with “antipersonnel devices,” which are defined as a firearm or any prohibited weapon, device, or projectile designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being.
S2310 cleared the Senate 35-3. It passed the Assembly 66-2-4 in May and now heads to the governor.