(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Vincent Prieto, Marlene Caride and Annette Quijano introduced to protect the privacy of New Jersey residents by creating standards to be followed by law enforcement agencies and fire departments utilizing drones passed the full Assembly on Thursday.
The bill (A-1039) sets forth certain guidelines to be followed by law enforcement agencies and fire departments that use unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones.
“We have heard many concerns about the expanded use of drones invading personal privacy, so a bill like this makes sense in this day and age,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We will not be impairing the ability of law enforcement and emergency services to use drones when they’re definitely needed. We’ll just be creating common sense guidelines.”
“Protecting personal privacy in this age of ever-expanding technology is important, but so is protecting the ability of law enforcement and emergency services to use technology that can be helpful in time of need,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “This bill strikes the right balance.”
“Technology has changed our society, but has also raised concerns about privacy protections,” said Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic). “No one wants to restrict the ability of law enforcement to use technology when the need arises, but creating clear standards for the use of technology such as drones ensures everyone will be satisfied in the end.”
“Under the provisions of the bill, a law enforcement agency faces warrant requirements to utilize a drone, though the warrant requirements do not apply to fire departments when monitoring a fire and emergency management offices when responding to an emergency such as a hurricane, flood or terrorist act,” said Quijano (D-Union).
The bill also provides that the Missing Persons Unit in the Department of Law and Public Safety or other law enforcement agency may utilize a drone for search and rescue missions, including but not limited to, locating a high risk missing person or missing child or following a notification that a person is abducted or missing by an Amber Alert or Silver Alert.
In addition, the bill provides that the forest fire service established under the Department of Environmental Protection may utilize a drone to survey or monitor the extent of a forest fire. All fire departments operating in the state also are permitted to utilize a drone to survey or monitor the extent of a fire in situations when the unmanned aerial system can assist firefighters in obtaining visual and oratory information on the damage caused by the fire to a building or other structure.
The bill requires each law enforcement agency or fire department that utilizes a drone to keep maintenance records for each unmanned aerial system, a record of the two most recent calendar years of fuel purchases for each unmanned aerial system, and any other documentation pertinent to the unmanned aerial system that may be otherwise required by the Office of the Attorney General.
In addition, each law enforcement agency or fire department that utilizes a drone is required to annually inspect the drone to ensure that the system is being properly maintained, is in good working condition and is safe to be used in the same proximity as the general public.
A report of the annual inspection is to be forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General no later January 1 of each year.
The bill also requires that the report include a statement documenting the number of times that an unmanned aerial system was used during the year, as well as a statement of facts establishing the purpose for which the unmanned aerial system was used, and the character of the information that the law enforcement agency or fire department obtained from utilizing the unmanned aerial system.
The bill requires that any records of a verbal or video communication that are unrelated to the ongoing criminal investigation are to be discarded within 14 days.
In the case of drones being used by a fire department, verbal or video communications that are unrelated to an arson investigation are to be discarded within 14 days.
The bill also requires that any information or records of a verbal or video communication derived from the use of a drone are to be strictly safeguarded from the public or any other third party. Evidence illegally derived by a law enforcement agency from the use of a drone is prohibited from being used as evidence in a criminal prosecution.
Finally, this bill prohibits drones from being equipped with an “antipersonnel device.” Under the bill, an antipersonnel device is defined as a firearm or any prohibited weapon or device or any other projectile designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively impact a human being.
A person who operates a drone equipped with an antipersonnel device is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree under the provisions of the bill. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
The bill was approved 66-1-3. The Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee released the measure on October 27, 2014.