SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow police to use unmanned aerial vehicles to look for missing people and survey crash scenes without a search warrant.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and Libertas Institute say HB296 would create too many loopholes in a law the Legislature passed last year restricting how law enforcement uses drones.
Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, told a House committee Friday that police departments shy away from using the technology because the law requires them to obtain warrants and record and report data from each flight. The bill would carve out exemptions for testing and training, people searches and investigating traffic accidents.
Jeremiah Riley, representing the Box Elder County Redevelopment Agency, said the bill strikes a balance that allows police to use drones in sensible ways that would not create surveillance concerns. The county has a state grant to build a unmanned aerial vehicle test center.
The bill is problematic no matter how well-intentioned it is, Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, told the Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. He said the reporting requirements are not burdensome and are needed for transparency.
Boyack also raised questions about how police would handle evidence of a crime they happened across on a training flight.
"There are some issues that definitely need to be looked at," said Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield.
The committee voted to hold the bill to give Sandall time to work those issues out.
State lawmakers passed SB167 during the 2014 Legislature, prohibiting Utah law enforcement from gathering information using an unmanned aerial vehicle without a search warrant supported by probable cause. The bill also created requirements for storage, retention and disposal of data collected by drones.
The measure requires the Utah Department of Public Safety to report its use of drones annually to the Legislature, including the number of times drones were used, the nature of the investigations, data gathered and cost.