Bill to Regulate Drones Passes Washington State House with Strong Bipartisan Support

News Release: 
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Washington State House has passed HB 2789, a bill which puts reasonable regulations in place for government use of drones in Washington state. The measure passed overwhelmingly with strong bipartisan support by an 83-15 vote.

“The legislature needs to act to ensure that Washington can have the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a ‘surveillance society’ in which government tracks, records, and scrutinizes people’s movements,” said Shankar Narayan, Legislative Director for the ACLU of Washington, which supports the measure. “The bill does not ban drones – it provides clarity by allowing legitimate uses of drones and ensures that public debate happens before they are actually deployed. It sets reasonable, common sense limits on their uses, including banning suspicionless, warrantless, generalized surveillance by drone.”

Rather than a patchwork of local laws, the legislature needs to establish statewide standards for regulation.  Legislation to regulate drones has been proposed in 43 states and enacted in nine.  Given Washingtonians’ historic concern to protect their privacy, it is even more critical that the legislature act immediately on this issue.

Unmanned aerial drones are a game-changing technology that gives the government unprecedented capabilities to engage in surveillance and other activities that infringe on privacy. They have fewer physical, logistical, and cost limitations than previous methods of information collection, such as fixed camera networks or manned aerial surveillance. Their small size allows them to capture information from new vantage points, possibly undetected. And they may be equipped with new surveillance technologies, such as high resolution cameras and facial recognition, which enable them to collect highly personal information.

The bill requires agency heads or the legislature to approve before an agency acquires drones.  With the exception of emergencies and other specified legitimate uses, law enforcement agencies would have to obtain a warrant before using drones.  And agencies are required to report how and how often they use drones, to give the legislature and the public more transparency in understanding how these technologies are being deployed.