Washington State Senate Passes Bill Limiting Domestic Drone Surveillance


The Washington state Senate passed a bill that would limit drone surveillance in the state, Friday.

Republican Congressman David Taylor introduced House Bill 1639, along with a bipartisan group of 16 legislators, in January.

The bill requires a warrant for drones “capable of remotely acquiring personally identifiable information from its surroundings” in most situations. As defined, these “extraordinary sensing devices” can obtain location data, sounds, images, and more.

Along with the warrant requirement, the bill would prohibit the disclosure of personally identifiable information after the conclusion of the operation for which it was authorized unless there exists probably cause of criminal activity.

Data collected under a warrant must be destroyed within 30 days of a determination that probable cause no longer exists and any information collected in violation of the law would be inadmissible in court, along with any evidence derived from that information.

HB1639 also prohibits state agencies from purchasing drones equipped with extraordinary sensing devices unless the state legislature specifically appropriates the funds. Local agencies cannot purchase such drones without the approval of their city or county council.

Finally, the legislation requires any agency acquiring drones with extraordinary sensing devices to develop written policies for their operation, including procedures to ensure minimization of information collected. These policies must be accessible to the public.

If followed, the provisions included in HB1639 would create important legal precedent in protecting citizens from surveillance abuses.

On the federal level, there have been some recent attempts to limit domestic surveillance.

A bill introduced by Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan last month that would repeal the Patriot Act entirely, as well as a landmark 2008 expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The Surveillance State Repeal Act also carries protections for national-security whistleblowers against retaliation and makes probable cause the basis for foreign-intelligence surveillance of an American or someone on US soil. The bill faces an uphill battle, with only ten current co-sponsors.

“It’s very long odds, but it’s a statement about what needs to happen. It’s a stronger Freedom Act that’s not going to get watered down,” Kentucky Republican, and co-sponsor of the bill, Thomas Massie recently said.

The Washington state House passed HB1639 73-25 on March 4. The Senate passed a slightly different version 43-4 April 15. The bill now goes back to the House where it must concur with the Senate amendments before being put before the governor’s desk.