Counterterrorism Merits Drone Use Without A Warrant, Crowd Monitoring Does Not: Tennessee Poised to Set New Limits

A federal grant bought Metro Police two Dragonflyer X-6 drones, but officials say they've been waiting on regulations to use them. Credit Ian Burt

A federal grant bought Metro Police two Dragonflyer X-6 drones, but officials say they’ve been waiting on regulations to use them. Credit Ian Burt

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam may sign off this week on a proposal to spell out when police are allowed to use small surveillance drones without a warrant.

The bill sponsored by Republicans won broad support across party lines, and would mean unmanned aircraft can’t just peek into apartment windows for evidence of crimes.  Without a warrant, police would need a reason like a specific terrorist threat, or “imminent danger to life.”  Other exceptions are for watching a hostage situation, or looking for a fugitive or missing person.

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Mae Beavers, isn’t known as a bipartisan uniter, but her bill was widely praised in the legislature.  Beavers says Tennessee followed Florida’s lead in barring police from using drones to watch crowds, like at a big football game.

“If you’re out in a crowd, still I think you’re entitled to some kind of privacy, to know that you’re not being filmed or whatever from the air.”

Some wanted an exception for such circumstances, but Gov. Haslam says he hasn’t heard from police over the bill, which he could sign in the next few days.

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