A Republican lawmaker is teaming up with the ACLU — a rare combination — to advance a measure that would restrict the use of drones for spying on Oklahomans and would require law officers to get a search warrant before using them for surveillance.
The measure is not an effort to cripple efforts under way in Oklahoma to test small, unmanned aircraft systems, commonly called drones, said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft. Oklahoma was the first state chosen as a testing site for these systems.
“Oklahoma is going to be a leader, if not the leader, in drone development, design, the technology and implementation of that,” said Wesselhoft, R-Moore. “We are not anti-technology. We are not anti-drones.”
House Bill 1556 would, among other regulations, require law officers, absent an emergency, to obtain a warrant first before using drones for surveillance purposes and prohibits the state from outfitting drones with weapons.
Lawmakers in at least 10 other states are looking at similar measures.
Wesselhoft, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, is supporting two other measures aimed at protecting Oklahomans' privacy rights.
HB 1559 would prohibit the state Public Safety Department from installing Radio Frequency Identification tracking technology in a driver's license or state-issued identification card. HB 1557 would require law officers, absent an emergency, to obtain a warrant first before they access the geolocation data stored by a cellphone user's cell provider.
“Privacy is not a partisan issue, and I am confident we will find bipartisan agreement that our laws should keep pace with technology,” Wesselhoft said. “Our current laws do not contemplate RFID scanners that can collect your personal data at over 100 yards away and at 100 mph, drones that can fit in your hand and can stay aloft for hours undetected, or that the government, without a warrant, can precisely track your movement with your cellphone.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, joined Wesselhoft at a state Capitol news conference to stress that laws must adapt to new technology.
“Those who would dismiss the need for increased privacy protections as speculative, should look no further than the growing industry in our own backyard,” Kiesel said. “These technologies may seem novel to some, but the use of RFID tracking technology is already commonplace, our cellphones are already sending detailed geolocation information to our cellphone providers, and the domestic use of drones by the public and private sector will be routine in under five years,” Kiesel said.
Companies are testing drones in restricted air space over Fort Sill near Elgin. The robotic aircraft being tested is to be used for purposes such as search-and-rescue efforts or responding to natural disasters such as tornadoes and fires.