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Washington State Police Push Back Against Limits On Drones

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network

Law enforcement groups in Washington state are pushing back against possible limits on police use of drones. That happened as a task force convened by Governor Jay Inslee wrestled some more Monday about how to regulate small unmanned aircraft.

In April, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee vetoed the Washington Legislature's first attempt to regulate government use of drones. Now police groups are worried the planned second try will handcuff their ability to take advantage of the new technology.

"We just don't want to start putting blinders on police officers,” said Mitch Barker, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Barker fears cops will be required to get a warrant to fly a drone, when the same mission in a manned aircraft wouldn't.

"Flying an unmanned vehicle that costs less and is far less dangerous than flying a manned vehicle,” Barker explained. “There's just no fundamental difference between the two of those."

Politicians in Olympia are also hearing from privacy advocates. ACLU of Washington lobbyist Shankar Narayan said the state legislature urgently needs to set rules "to prevent drones from becoming a ubiquitous surveillance tool."

The Oregon and Idaho Legislatures have already voted to require a warrant to use a drone for surveillance. The Idaho legislation also includes a broader ban against photographing or recording over private property without the owner's consent.

In conjunction with his April veto, Governor Inslee declared a 15-month moratorium on state agency purchases of drones and asked local police to follow suit. That was intended to give lawmakers time to craft better privacy rules.

The next meeting of the Washington drone task force is on November 10 in Olympia. Before that meeting, the governor's office said it aims to circulate a discussion draft of drone regulations which the state legislature could consider in 2015.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.