AUGUSTA — A state senator said Tuesday he wants limits and restrictions on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by police and other law-enforcement agencies in Maine.
Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, has authored a bill that would limit the use of drone-like surveillance devices and require police to seek a warrant from the courts before deploying them.
"I've always had a problem with giving Big Brother more tools to look at the masses," Patrick said. "I really don't like the idea of just anyone being able to watch everyone for anything."
Patrick said he consulted Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant on the measure and Gallant advised him that it wouldn't be a good idea to take certain tools from law enforcement.
The U.S. Congressional Research Service in January issued a report titled "Integration of Drones into Domestic Airspace." The report details select legal issues with using unmanned aerial vehicles on civilians. In its conclusion, the report states that many legal issues surrounding the use of drones on the domestic population will remain unresolved until there is more "widespread" use of the vehicles.
The report also suggests the vehicles would be regulated under the Federal Aviation Administration and that any federal law on the domestic deployment of drones in the national airspace may, based on previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings, pre-empt state law.
Patrick said his bill allows for the use of drones in certain circumstances but prohibits the use for "general surveillance." The bill also prohibits the use of facial recognition or biometric software on any drone operated by law enforcement in Maine.
"Maine's Vacationland," Patrick said. "Can you imagine some drone is flying over the beaches of Maine, people look up and a mile up in the sky there's just a thing flying around looking at beaches? Who knows what the information would be used for if they did it for the sake of general surveillance."
The bill also prohibits gathering information not related to a permitted use.
It allows the use of the vehicles with consent, with a court-order search warrant and in emergencies in which there is an imminent threat to a person's life.
"If there's a reason, if you need a warrant, or you are going after a bad guy or if there happens to be a terrorist or something, then you can do these things," Patrick said. "But just generally flying over and scoping everyone for no reason ... "
He said he sponsored the bill so the Legislature could be proactive, rather than reactive.
"It's going to give us a chance to discuss this openly; we haven't had that dialogue," he said.
Patrick's bill moved Tuesday from the Senate to the Legislature's Judiciary Committee for hearings and discussion.