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Weaponized drones are all the rage for North Dakota police

By Nicholas C. Fondacaro | Watchdog Arena

As the proliferation of law enforcement drones expands, so do the concerns about privacyaccountability, and police surveillance in general. Residents of North Dakota now have to be concerned about the use of “non-lethal” weapons on police drones.

In April, Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the now controversial House Bill 1328. The stated intent of the bill is “AN ACT to provide for limitations on the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance.” The bill goes on to say in Section 5:

A law enforcement agency may not authorize the use of, including granting a permit to use, an unmanned aerial vehicle armed with any lethal weapons.

Nowhere in the language of the bill are non-lethal weapons mentioned as prohibited on law enforcement drones.

According to a report by the Daily Beast, the original text of the bill prohibited all weapons from police drones, but it was later taken out. The report says that the North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association lobbied to change the bill to limit only lethal weapons.

In a hearing in March Representative Rick C. Becker, the original author of the bill stated:

This is one I’m not in full agreement with. I wish it was any weapon. In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period…When you’re not on the ground, and you’re making decisions, you’re sort of separate, Depersonalized.

Not only are civil liberty advocates upset about the bill, so are proponents for police and the drone industry.

On the intent of the bill–which is to limit the snooping by law enforcement–Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost told the Daily Beast “It was a bad bill to start with, we just thought the whole thing was ridiculous.”

During a hearing on the bill, a representative from the Grand Forks Regional Economic Development Corporation tried to tie police use of drones to expanding commercial applications. Vice President of the organization Keith Lund argued that limiting the use of police drones would somehow interfere with their commercial development and application.

North Dakota itself is a very drone friendly place. Grand Forks county, the University of North Dakota, and the Federal Aviation Administration have partnered on a project for drone development called Grand Sky. The program provides tax credits and facilities at the Grand Forks Air Force Base.

With the work that the state is putting into attracting drone developers to the state and human innovation driving that development, people don’t need to worry that limits on police drones will stifle the industry. People should be more worried about the use of drones by government agencies that believe it is inconvenient to obtain a warrant and are suspicious if you take your right to privacy seriously.

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.