Privacy SOS

Massachusetts proposal to regulate law enforcement use of drones heard before legislature

This morning the Massachusetts state legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security heard testimony in support of bipartisan proposals to regulate the government’s use of surveillance drones. The Vice Chair of the committee, Senator Michael Moore, introduced one of the measures, S.1348, which would do the following:

  • mandate that law enforcement obtain warrants before using drones for criminal or intelligence investigations, with limited exceptions for public safety emergencies;
  • bar the use of drones to monitor First Amendment protected speech and associations;
  • forbid the weaponization of drones in Massachusetts;
  • outlaw the warrantless use of biometric tracking tools like facial recognition on drones;
  • require regular reporting on state and local law enforcement’s drone use; and
  • exclude drone surveillance evidence from court if it was obtained in violation of the statute.

As I explained in my written testimony, the prospect of law enforcement using drones is no longer a hypothetical in our Commonwealth. At least two Massachusetts police departments already use the technology, lending urgency to the legislation. In the digital 21st century, we can’t wait for courts to rule on the constitutionality of warrantless electronic surveillance. That process frequently takes a long time (as long as two decades in some cases), and requires just the right ingredients to come together. We can’t rely on those pieces falling into place—and we can’t wait until they do to institute commonsense protections for Massachusetts residents. 

The ACLU thanks Senator Moore and Senator Patrick O’Connor for introducing S.1348 and S.1349, which if enacted would go a long way toward bringing privacy law in line with modern law enforcement technology. If you agree, give your state representative and senator a call and let them know you want a warrant requirement for drone surveillance.

© 2017 ACLU of Massachusetts.