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Wash. State Police Push Back Against Potential Limits On Drones

Jeff Chiu
AP Photo
FILE - In this May 8, 2014 photo, a Parrot Bebop drone flies during a demonstration at a Parrot event in San Francisco.

Law enforcement groups in Washington state are pushing back against possible limits on police use of drones.

A task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee continued to wrestle Monday about how to regulate small unmanned aircraft.

In April, Inslee vetoed the state legislature's first attempt to regulate government use of drones. Now police groups are worried the planned second try will handcuff their ability to take advantage of the new technology.

“We just don't want to start putting blinders on police officers,” said Mitch Barker, who directs the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Barker fears cops will be required to get a warrant to fly a drone while the same mission in a manned aircraft wouldn't.

“Flying an unmanned vehicle that costs less and is far less dangerous than flying a manned vehicle — there's just no fundamental difference between the two of those,” Barker said.

Politicians in Olympia are also hearing from privacy advocates. ACLU of Washington lobbyist Shankar Narayan said the state legislature urgently needs to set rules "to prevent drones from becoming a ubiquitous surveillance tool."

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. 

In conjunction with his April veto, Inslee declared a 15-month moratorium on state agency purchases of drones and asked local police to follow suit. The move was intended to give lawmakers time to craft better privacy rules. 

The next meeting of the Washington drone task force is on Nov. 10 in Olympia. Before that meeting, the governor's office said it aims to circulate a discussion draft of drone regulations which the state legislature could consider in 2015.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.