NJ Senate Approves Guidelines For Law Enforcement Drone Use

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State Sen. Nicholas Scutari

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari

TRENTON – On Thursday, the state Senate approved legislation sponsored by Senators Nicholas J. Sacco (D-Hudson/Bergen) and Nicholas P. Scutari (D-Union/Middlesex) that would set forth specific guidelines to be followed by law enforcement agencies when employing unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, for surveillance purposes.

“Drone technology is out there, and we need to implement certain guidelines before it progresses to widespread commercial use,” said Sacco, Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “Although drones offer a solution to overcome cost and manpower shortages, it is crucial that all parties uphold certain standards of privacy. With new technology comes additional responsibility, and this bill will help protect the safety of New Jersey residents for years to come.”

Under provisions of this bill, S2702, law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using a drone unless there were reasonable grounds to believe that information that may be derived from an unmanned aerial vehicle would be relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.

The bill would permit the Missing Persons Unit to utilize a drone for search and rescue missions, including but not limited to, locating high risk missing person or child or following a notification that a person is abducted or missing by an Amber Alert or Silver Alert. The bill would also allow forest fire services to use drones to survey a forest fire, and for any fire department to use them to monitor the extent of damage caused by a fire to a building or structure. The final exemption would permit the Office of Emergency Management to use drones in the event of an emergency, including but not limited to: a hurricane, flood, or terrorist act.

“For law enforcement agencies responding to fires and other emergencies, these drones are an effective way to survey large areas in a short amount of time. But these benefits cannot overshadow the need to properly maintain these devices and protect any acquired information,” said Scutari, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This legislation is about preventing abuses of this technology, while allowing for its useful application when necessary.”

The bill includes documentation requirements that would call upon law enforcement agencies or fire departments to submit proof of annual inspection, maintenance records, and a statement of facts recording the purpose, usage, and surveillance results for each drone.

Privacy measures in the bill ensure that information derived from the use of a drone would be strictly safeguarded from the public or any third party, any records unrelated to the ongoing criminal investigation would be required to be discarded within 14 days, and any evidence obtained illegally through these devices would be forbidden from being used as evidence in a criminal prosecution.

In addition, drones would be prohibited from being equipped with “antipersonnel devices,” which are defined as a firearm or any prohibited weapon, device, or projectile designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being.

The bill cleared the Senate by a vote of 36-0. It next heads to the General Assembly for consideration.


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