Inslee vetoes bill regulating use of drones by government

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday vetoed a bill to strictly regulate the purchase and use of drones by state agencies and local governments.

Inslee said rules are needed, and ordered a 15-month moratorium on buying and deploying drones by agencies under his control, except in emergencies. He hopes local governments and law enforcement agencies will hold off from pursuing drone technology in those months as well.

He said he intends to form a task force to spend the time crafting a bill he can sign.

“I think this is something that does need a very clear framework of what is not allowed by public agencies,” he said.

House Bill 2789 passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate.

Under the bill, state agencies would have needed the approval of the Legislature to acquire a drone. Most information gathered by the sensing devices on the machines would not have been subject to public disclosure laws and could not be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.

The bill permitted use of drones for forest fire surveillance, wildlife management, military training, and in emergencies proclaimed by the governor, such as the Oso mudslide.

“I am very disappointed that Governor Inslee vetoed this well-worked, forward-looking legislation that was intended to protect citizens from being spied on by their government without legal approval,” said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, one of the bill’s sponsors.

ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor said the moratorium spotlights the problems that the bill tried to solve.

While it allows use of drones in emergencies, it does not prescribe any rules for protecting privacy of residents and handling of information that is gathered. Moreover, it is not binding on local agencies, which means they can proceed without restrictions.

“The governor’s moratorium shows exactly why we needed the bill in the first place – to put in place rules around procurement and use of drones, and clear standards for what the government is allowed to do and what it is not,” Taylor said.

Legislation must ensure that government does not use the game-changing technology of drones for suspicionless general surveillance,” Taylor said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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