Drone law could get off ground next session


Privacy advocates are urging Minnesota lawmakers to regulate the use of unmanned aircraft known as drones.

Twenty states already have drone laws on the books. Minnesota does not, although three bills were introduced last session.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, warned state legislators today that drones with cameras could one day be used by law enforcement for routine mass surveillance and data collection.

“It could reveal what kind of establishments you go to, who you are spending your time with, who your friends are, who your lovers are, who your doctors are and what their specialties are, what religious activities, political activities, union activities you engage in,” Stanley said. “We and the people we represent don’t want to live in a country where that is the new reality.”

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee and House Civil Law Committee held the informational hearing.

Jim Franklin of the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association told House and Senate members that any bill would need to balance privacy concerns with public safety. Franklin also stressed that no law enforcement agencies in the state currently own a drone.

“It’s not the FAA rules that have held us back on getting into this,” Franklin said. “It’s money. It’s personnel. It’s technology things we just simply don’t have.”

Franklin said he agrees with a proposed requirement for law enforcement to obtain search warrants when using drones for surveillance.

State Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, told Franklin she was skeptical about his testimony and wondered if he understood the concerns of privacy advocates. Holberg, who did not seek re-election to the House this year and will serve on the Dakota County Board of Commissioners next year, said law enforcement has resisted accountability measures for other surveillance technology, such as license plate readers.

“We do not want to impede your ability to get the bad guys. But quite frankly, there are some bad guys within your ranks,” Holberg said.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.