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House Bill 486 — Use of unmanned aircraft systems

House Bill 486 — Use of unmanned aircraft systems

Parrish Miller
February 14, 2020

Bill description: HB 486 updates the state's rules governing the use of unmanned aircraft systems (drones).

Rating: +1

Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?

HB 486 amends Section 21-213, Idaho Code, to specify that the state's prohibition against the use of "an unmanned aircraft system to photograph or otherwise record an individual, without such individual's written consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating such photograph or recording" applies to local and federal agencies in addition to state agencies.

HB 486 adds "commercial or industrial property" to the list of entities protected from surveillance by an unmanned aircraft system.


Idaho limits the use of unmanned aircraft systems, with some exceptions. HB 486 creates a new list of exceptions, which replaces the old one. Current law says that the limits apply "except for emergency response for safety, search and rescue or controlled substance investigations.  …" HB 486 adds several subsections spelling out the exceptions.

The bill allows exceptions for the following: managing crowds or traffic during an event, assessing damage due to a natural disaster, training individuals in the use of unmanned aircraft systems, conducting search and rescue operations, and responding to an emergency "in which there is an imminent threat to the lives or property." It also allows for the unrestricted use of such systems "following the issuance of a warrant, where a warrant is required under Idaho or federal law."

On balance, removing "controlled substance investigations" from the list of exceptions, which this bill does, should prevent law enforcement from using unmanned aircraft systems to conduct warrantless searches for people who might be growing a marijuana plant in their backyard.


Unfortunately, the numerous and broad exceptions still leave considerable opportunity for government officials to use unmanned aircraft system surveillance against individuals. One example is the requirement that a "law enforcement agency shall not issue traffic infraction citations based solely on images or video captured by an unmanned aircraft system." The problem here is that "based solely" leaves room for issuing citations based partially on the images and video captured, without a warrant or consent of the individuals surveilled.

By failing to fully and completely ban the capture, storage, or use of images and video obtained without a warrant, the door is left open for officials to violate the Fourth Amendment.

An additional problem is that, unlike in HB 376, local and federal agencies are not explicitly barred from the use of "an unmanned aircraft system to intentionally conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record specifically targeted persons or specifically targeted private property," as are state agencies.


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