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Indiana drone bill for police sparks privacy concerns

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Indiana lawmakers are debating whether or not police should need search warrants to use a drone. House Bill 1358 would take away the need for a warrant, and although police officers say it could help them in their work, some critics say the bill brings privacy concerns.

“I think there are some potential pitfalls with this legislation,” said Stan Wruble, a criminal defense attorney in South Bend.

The bill would allow officers to use drones without a search warrant for public safety,  in response to things like rioting or to get evidence in a criminal investigation.

They would be able to do that in public streets, parks or even inside some buildings if there is a large public gathering. Any footage collected could be used as evidence.

“It may sound like it’s a reasonable use of technology to have a drone over a public street,” said Wruble. “However, over a public street you can obviously look into people’s backyards, you can look into people’s garage areas and if you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in those areas, this sort of turns into the big brother Orwellian nightmare scenario.”

Wruble says he’s not only concerned about privacy; he’s also concerned of how this law would be used in the future. Although officers would not need a search warrant, they would still need probably cause to use the drone according to the bill.

“Taking out the need for a warrant, the police can always say there’s probable cause. Now, after the fact it might be proven that there wasn’t probable cause but I think it provides more safeguards, when it comes to civil liberties it provides more safeguards to have a warrant,” said Wruble.

Taking away the need for a search warrant puts the discretion into the hands of officers on scene rather than a third party. Wruble says he’s concerned that could take away objectivity.  

“Certainly law enforcement should be able to use tools to keep the public safe,” he said. “It’s just whether they should have unfettered discretion to decide when to use those in terms of surveillance.”

And in terms of the law Wruble says drone use is somewhat unsettled.

“The state of the constitutional law is somewhat undecided on this,” he said.

But although the legislation is still pending, Wruble says  it could just be the beginning as technological advances are made.

“The concern is that we potentially head down a slippery slope where our privacy rights are eroded further and further and further,” said Wruble.

To view the details and latest details on House Bill 1358, click here.

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Stumpblower 214 days ago
Timely article. One thing not mentioned in the article is how is drone footage to be treated under the Indiana Access To Public Records Act. Law enforcement evidence generally enjoys a statutory exemption from mandatory public disclosure (there are very good reasons for this exemption). However, what about journalists and disinterested third parties (e.g. neighbors) who want to find out what is going on in their own neighborhood. What if the shoe was on the other foot? Fly a drone over a St. Joe County Metro Homicide crime scene and see what happens. Would make for an interesting obstruction of justice case.
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