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Science and Technology

State Drone Regulations Not Cleared For Liftoff In Olympia

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The Washington governor's office unveiled draft rules for government use of drones Monday. It would replace legislation that Democrat Jay Inslee vetoed earlier this year.

Washington State Chief Information Officer Michael Cockrill presented the draft bill to a task force convened by Washington's governor. Cockrill said the Inslee administration's preferred approach is "to be permissive, not restrictive." The state wants to take advantage of cost-efficient aerial data collection for jobs like counting elk or monitoring oil spills.

But Republican and Democratic state lawmakers immediately piped up with dissents. State representative Jeff Morris said he favors more limits to protect personal privacy.

"This is a permissive bill that lets agencies set up their own rules of deployment and engagement,” he said. “You might have seven different agencies with seven different ways they're deploying the same technology."

The Inslee administration would require law enforcement agencies in the state to get a warrant before flying unmanned aircraft on a mission likely to "intrude" on a person's private affairs.

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.

At the close of Monday's penultimate task force meeting, Cockrill indicated the Inslee administration would incorporate the feedback it received and "come back with a new draft of this," probably in early December.

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.