A bill to restrict drone use in Massachusetts will go to a Transportation Committee hearing on Feb. 5, after being postponed from Wednesday to due to inclement weather.
The Drone Privacy Act, introduced by Mass. Sen. Robert Hedlund and Mass. Rep. Colleen Garry, will require police officers to have warrants before using drones, except for emergency situations.
“We think of drones as controversial tools of warfare and killing, but this remote controlled aerial surveillance technology is also increasingly of interest to local law enforcement,” the bill said on the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts website. “It is up to state lawmakers to ensure that this emerging technology is used responsibly in Massachusetts — without weapons … and not for warrantless surveillance of our movements and activities.”
The bill will create two regulations that ensure that weaponized drones will be banned in Massachusetts, and drones will only be available for use in specific circumstances, including the execution of a search warrant, emergencies, threats to state safety and other rare cases, the website said.
“Drones should never: use biometric matching technology, except to identify the subject of a warrant; collect data on other people who are not the subject of the warrant; or monitor people’s lawful First Amendment activities,” the bill said.
R. John Hansman, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he does not see the purpose of the bill because there is no difference between a drone and an aircraft.
“We allow people to fly aircrafts over populated areas,” he said. “We allow the police to operate. So, the only difference between a manned airplane and a drone, or a UAB, is that it can be smaller, so that allows it to get places that a manned airplane or a helicopter can have a hard time getting.”
Hansman said forcing the police to have a warrant before using drones could also affect the necessary access to other resources that can help in dangerous situations.
“Let’s say, for example, there was a major traffic accident that occurred on 128,” he said. “You could send in a UAB or drone to quickly access if you needed to be sending ambulances. In a situation like that, you’re not using the drones for surveillance in the type of way you think about it when you’re trying to figure out if someone is doing a drug deal.”
Several residents said they have been deprived of their privacy in recent years, and they are hopeful that the Drone Privacy Act will be passed.
Will Cohen, 23, of Brighton, said warrants are the best way to ensure that the police will not overstep into the privacy of the people.
“It’s not something that I’m worried about any short-term effects but the potential of abuse, even not at an institution level but at an individual level,” he said. “The potential for abuse could be really high, and I feel like the temptation for abuse would be really high. It certainly would be for me.”
Angelica Giardina, 18, of East Boston, said privacy is the primary goal and no one should have the ability to take that away, even for potential security purposes.
“I don’t even support the use of drones at all, but I definitely think that police should have to use a warrant,” she said. “We have a right to have our own privacy. I don’t think that the police or anyone should infringe upon that.”
David Davis, 52, of Back Bay, said individual privacy has been gradually decreasing, but law enforcement officers should be granted the use of surveillance drones if they feel they are needed.
“We don’t really have any privacy any more,” he said. “If the law enforcement officials feel that they need surveillance drones to do what they need to do to keep the criminals off the street, then they have to do that. The only thing that would worry me is if it’s a waste of money. How many criminals would this really catch? It may not be worth it.”