North Dakota has passed legislation that allows drones to be equipped with non-lethal weapons in a convoluted bill that was originally intended to require warrants for drone searches. Even more surprising, the original draft was also supposed to ban all weapons on police drones, according to Representative Rick Becker.
The bill now does precisely the opposite.
In the lead up to the bill’s vote, Bruce Burkett of the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association was given the chance to amend HB 1328, limiting the prohibition to lethal weapons only. As a result, drones may now carry rubber bullets, sound cannons, Tasers, pepper spray, and tear gas.
Protests against the use of drones without a warrant resulted in the drafting of HB 1328, but Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost believes he shouldn’t need a warrant in order to engage in surveillance. Rost stated he used drone surveillance in order to obtain warrants in the first place.
This attitude presumes the principle “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” a scary logical fallacy often used by those that wish to spy. At the same time, the sheriff’s department also declined to give a full accounting of how many drone missions have been flown since 2012.
FAA records show that 401 missions were flown between 2012 and 2014, while the Grand Fork’s Sheriff’s Department curiously lists only 21 missions.
Proponents of the original bill’s intent requiring warrants for drone searches, describe the opposition as a result of North Dakota’s “drone lobby.” The North Dakota Department of Commerce (NDDOC) voiced opposition against the bill, characterizing the warrant requirement in the bill as “restricting development” of the drone industry in North Dakota.
In the midst of the state’s declining oil boom, North Dakota has become a big proponent for the drone industry, with an extensive drone program at North Dakota University and now the newly opened Grand Sky facility. Grand Sky is self-described as the “United States’ first commercial drone business and aviation park” where research and development, training, and flying of drones is to be conducted.
Sarah Nelson, a journalist in Bismarck, ND who follows the issue of police drone use, argues that the goal of law enforcement and industry advocates is the use of drones in a constant surveillance mode, similar to their overwatch role in U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the event a crime is committed, law enforcement would then go back for surveillance footage of the area of interest.
With past revelations of the extensive nature of NSA surveillance still on Americans’ minds, the next step may be 24/7 video surveillance from 10,000 feet.