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TBI opposes local lawmaker's bill to limit use of drones

March 16th, 2013 7:44 pm by Hank Hayes

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation opposes legislation that would curtail law enforcement using drones in criminal investigations.


State Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has filed a “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” scheduled to be considered Wednesday by a House Civil Justice Subcommittee.


Van Huss, a military veteran, did not respond to an email and phone call about why he filed the bill.


The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence or other information, but there are exceptions.


Drone use would be allowed if the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant, or if the agency has “reasonable suspicion” that swift action is needed to save lives, according to the bill.


The legislation says anyone “aggrieved by a violation of this bill” may initiate a civil action against a law enforcement agency to obtain relief as determined by a court.


Evidence obtained or collected in violation of the bill will not be admissible in a criminal prosecution, the bill adds.


Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus, in an email, said he was not aware of any local law enforcement agency using drones in criminal investigations.


A TBI spokeswoman, meanwhile, said the agency does not like Van Huss’ bill.


“TBI does not have a drone, but we have contracted with outside sources to use them in cases, and we oppose the bill as it is. TBI believes it needs more exceptions for law enforcement usage,” TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm explained in an email.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in a position paper, noted U.S. law enforcement is “greatly expanding” its use of domestic drones for surveillance.


“Routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America,” ACLU pointed out. “Rules must be put in place to ensure that we can enjoy the benefits of this new technology without bringing us closer to a ‘surveillance society’ in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the government. Drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote-controlled aircraft with (non-lethal for now) weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas. ... Drones should be deployed by law enforcement only with a warrant, in an emergency, or when there are specific and articulated grounds to believe that the drone will collect evidence relating to a specific criminal act.”


For more about Van Huss’ legislation, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The bill’s number is HB 591.


Ramsey’s wine plan


Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he’s pressing forward with a plan to pass legislation to allow localities to hold referendums on whether wine should be sold in retail food stores.


Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he’s encouraged the Senate version of the bill to move through the Senate Finance Committee despite its recent one-vote defeat in a House Local Government Committee.


The deciding “no” vote on the bill came from the committee’s chairman, state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.


“To say it hit a bump in the road would be an understatement,” Ramsey said of the bill sponsored by state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. “Matthew Hill ended up voting ‘no.’ That’s not what he led the (House) Speaker (Nashville Republican Beth Harwell) to believe that he was going to do.”


To resurrect the House version of the bill, Hill or one of the other committee lawmakers voting against the legislation would have to make a motion to bring it back up, said Ramsey.


When asked if Hill has been asked to reconsider his vote, Ramsey said: “I feel confident he has. ... I guess we need to figure out if he wants to do that and what the price is.”


Hill was contacted but not immediately available to comment.


Lundberg’s bill is HB 610.


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