Pierce County Councilman Dan Roach is proposing an ordinance banning warrantless use of drones by law enforcement. The law is now in committee and comes after a similar measure in the Washington legislature stalled and Seattle Police backtracked from its own drone usage earlier this year.
“If we don’t act now to set some common sense regulations in place to protect privacy,” Roach said Saturday, “It’s going to be hard to implement them once it’s already out of the bag.”
That “bag” opens in 2015, when the FAA is required to open air space to drones.
“When that happens, it’s going to explode,” Roach commented.
Drone use by law enforcement has turned into a highly sensitive topic. Several other local governments around the country have implemented similar bans on warrantless drone use, while some police agencies are going through the testing process.
Seattle Police used a federal grant to acquire two drones. Earlier in 2013, public outcry over privacy violation concerns forced the department and Mayor’s office to stop the effort.
Dr. Tad McGeer, co-founder of Washington drone developer Aerovel, doesn’t understand the controversy.
“Somehow, it’s okay to have cameras on light poles,” Dr. McGeer said, “Somehow, if you put it on an unmanned aircraft, it’s something totally different.”
Dr. McGeer’s company is not involved in drones for local law enforcement, but he did give a demonstration and testify for state lawmakers on what drones can and cannot do.
“A camera on an unmanned aircraft is no different than a camera on any other aircraft or anywhere else,” he explained, “Usually, it’s a very narrow field of view.”
In Pierce County, Roach said the sheriff’s office has no plans to inquire about drones. It did not return calls for comment from KING 5. Roach envisions skies full of drones in just a few years. And while his ordinance allows the gadgets to fly with warrants or when lives are in danger, he believes the county should act first.
“Every government that’s going to be looking at taxpayer dollars is going to say, ‘hey, we can do it cheaper with drones.’”