Minn. lawmakers look to protect privacy via drone boundaries

Minn. lawmakers look to protect privacy via drone boundaries

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Whether it's a discussion of drones or cell phone trackers, lawmakers are trying to keep privacy protections ahead of the new technology that simply didn't exist when those laws were drafted.

The U.S. military isn't alone in its interest in drones. Facebook is reportedly looking at buying a drone company in order to provide Internet service from the atmosphere, and a Twin Cities man wants to use them to deliver beers to boaters. It's all but certain that police will explore the idea too, but before those efforts begin in earnest, Minnesota lawmakers hope to draw up some general rules for use.

On Tuesday, lawmakers set their sights on establishing boundaries to protect drones by asking questions that have yet to be answered. After all, if Amazon can use drones to deliver a package, why couldn't police employ a similar device to get evidence from above?

"If drones are going to take pictures, videos or other kind of surveillance of citizens, we want to make sure there is adequate probable cause before that happens," Rep. John Lesch said.

Drones aren't the only devices lawmakers are honing in on either. Law enforcement has the ability to track cell phones, and that's something that doesn't sit well with privacy advocates.

"When I've described this legislation to people, they are literally shocked that the government can access the location of your cellphone without your knowledge, without a warrant, without probable cause and without notice to the person involved in the investigation," Rep. Joe Atkins said.

Earlier this year, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety revealed that it owns what is called a "Stingray" and "Kingfish" to intercept cell phone signals in investigations. For Richard Neumunster, that ability is a big red flag.

"You want to be able to draw boundaries with privacy and public safety," he said.

A bill put forth by Atkins would require any government agency to secure a warrant prior to collecting tracking data; however, Rep. Tony Cornish, a former police officer, contends that the bill would create an impediment for investigators.

"We just don't like the high bars with the evidence and the way criminals can get out of dodge," Cornish explained. "We would just like to be able to react more quickly and don't want our hands tied."

The cell phone tracking bill does make exemptions for emergencies, such as when lives are in danger or when there is consent from the individual. Yet, whether it comes to phone tracking or drone usage, the American Civil Liberties Union insists limits need to be put in place.

"We don't want to see this country drift into Argentina where secret investigations are conducted and people are arrested," Charles Samuelson argued. "We need it all done publicly. That's the process that we live in."

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