Monday, January 25, 2016

Drones for Criminal Law Enforcement - Massachusetts

Drone Laws in Massachusetts
In recent years, drones have become increasingly popular for serious private and public concerns. Some mail-order companies are using drone to deliver small packages. Real estate and film industries are using drones to take photos and videos of otherwise difficult to reach spots of buildings and natural formations (like tops of mountains).

Criminal Law Enforcement

Now, police and military sectors are looking into using drones for criminal law enforcement. An extreme example of such use of drones is to assist with hostage situations. They can easily access wooded areas to photograph, follow and locate fugitives, missing children, illegal drugs, or stolen goods. Drones can also discreetly record conversations which can serve as potentially incriminating evidence against suspects. They can be equipped with lights, loudspeakers and weapons. They are operated remotely, reducing casualties to law enforcement and military personnel.

Despite their apparent usefulness, the use of drones faces many obstacles as to their legality. Anti-drone proponents argue violations to citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights, particularly one’s personal right to privacy and the immunity from being searched or questioned without a warrant. Pro-drones proponents urge their effectiveness for preventing crime and terrorism and limiting casualties to law enforcement and military personnel.

Some police departments have commenced training in drone operation and are getting ready to include drone technology in their everyday policing. Private suppliers provide materials and training on the proper use and handling of drones during operations.

Is Drone Surveillance Legal?

Unfortunately, existing laws are not very clear about the legality and extent of use of drones for conducting criminal law enforcement and monitoring. Senate Bill 185 and House Bill 614 have been submitted to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate. According to the proposed bills, drones can be used by law enforcers only if they have warrants or if there’s a life-threatening situation. If the bills are passed, weaponized drones will be banned and drone surveillance will be limited. These bills do not affect hobbyists and commercial entities.

Criminal defense attorneys oppose the use of drones in law enforcement. Residents who feel likewise should write their local representative or congressman/woman while the bills are being considered.

By Kathleen Delaney Esq.