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Unmanned drones on the minds of Michigan lawmakers

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Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan lawmakers take up drone legislation this week.

The unmanned aircraft have proven effective in war, but some are concerned they may violate the rights of Michiganders.

Unmanned drones offer a new way to see the world. The drones can help police departments keep an eye on criminals, give state agencies a different way to survey state land and even help local school administrators watch students on the playground.

But there is concern that drones could be abused.

State Representative Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) says “there are uses for drones.”   But he says there should be strict limits on when and how drones can be used in Michigan.

“Right now we’re talking about taxpayer dollars,” says McMillin. “We’re talking about what they should be used for and making sure that the government is not violating search and seizure laws and constitutional laws.”

For example, McMillin says police should only use drones when they have a search warrant or are dealing with an imminent threat.   The bill would also not allow law enforcement agencies to fly drones that contain, mount or can carry “a lethal or nonlethal weapon or weapon system of any type.” 

The legislation makes it clear that government agencies are not to use information collected ‘accidently’ by drones:

“Data collected on an individual, home, or area other than the target that justified deployment of a UAV shall not be used, copied, or disclosed for any purpose, but shall be deleted as soon as possible, and in no event later than 24 hours after collection.”

McMillin’s bill only affects police and government agencies, though he expects legislation may come soon to regulate non-government use of drones in Michigan. 

More than 30 other states are looking at restricting the use of drones.

A federal law that goes into effect next month allows police and first responders to fly small drones below 400 feet. The FAA is expected to issue more complete rules in 2015.

The state House Criminal Justice committee will discuss the drone bills on Wednesday in Lansing.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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