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Eye in the sky: Bill requiring warrant for drone use passes House

This April 27, 2012 photo shows the Draganflyer X6 helicopter in Seattle. North Dakota law enforcement may soon be required to obtain a search warrant in order to use this or a similar unmanned aircraft system, if the Senate passes House Bill 1373.

BISMARCK -- North Dakota law enforcement may soon be required to obtain a search warrant in order to use an unmanned aircraft system, or drone, for civilian surveillance purposes.

House Bill 1373, which requires a warrant for drone surveillance of personal or business property within the state, was sent to the Senate Friday.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, to address concerns about privacy and the potential for violating an individual's Fourth Amendment right, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant.

He said the bill is, "a simple way to say, 'let's get that search warrant before we use drones on our citizens.'"

What has been reported as the first use of a drone aircraft in the arrest of U.S. citizens took place in North Dakota in 2011. A drone from a federal agency assisted the Nelson County Sheriff's Department on Rodney Brossart's 3,000 acre farm near Lakota.

A day after Brossart's arrest, law enforcement attempted to arrest his three sons, leading to a standoff. The drone helped locate the brothers and determined they were unarmed before officers went on to the farm to make the arrests.

The bill would exempt the use of drones within a 25-mile radius of the Canadian border to police the border to prevent or deter the illegal entry of any person. It also will exempt the use for exigent circumstances, which is defined as a time when law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that without quick action, there is an imminent danger to life or bodily harm. Their use also would be exempted when used for protecting property and surveying environmental damage after a weather-related catastrophe.

The bill would not infringe on the University of North Dakota's use and exploration of unmanned aircraft, which concerned Rep. Lois Delmore, D-Grand Forks.

She said the bill doesn't provide enough information and could have some unintended consequences that could harm UND. "It could cause the national perception of UND's role in UAS to suffer."

The school is competing against 81 organizations from 26 states to be one of six test sites for unmanned aircraft in the United States.