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Utah Lawmakers Pushing For More Privacy Protections To Limit Police Use Of Drones

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File photo of a surveillance drone. (credit: BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a surveillance drone. (credit: BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah is joining other states that have waded into the debate over unmanned aerial systems by courting the fast-growing industry while at the same time pushing for more privacy protections to limit local police use of drones.

Utah lawmakers are set to consider two bills this year dealing with drones.

One proposal limits when governments can use the aircraft while another recognizes the benefits of the technology and encourages its development in Utah.

The fine line between courting a potential job-creator and ensuring privacy protections is one several states have been walking in recent years.

In 2013, at least nine states passed laws restricting the use of drones, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Five of those nine states also submitted bids to serve as drone testing sites for the Federal Aviation Administration, which local officials have said they hope will be a financial boon for their states.

One state, Idaho, also passed a resolution recognizing drone technology is a flourishing industry that would benefit their states.

In Utah, both proposals are still awaiting a first hearing.

The technology is so new that there are no real privacy protections in place yet, Sen. Howard Stephenson told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Stephenson, a Republican from Draper, is sponsoring a bill that limits when government and law enforcement can use drones and the information they collect.

His proposal would require that, with the exception of some emergencies, government agencies using the technology need a warrant or permission from a person considered a target of the aircraft.

The bill also limits what data can be collected and requires any unrelated data that’s gathered be destroyed within 24 hours.

Another proposal pending in the Legislature is a resolution expressing support for the development of drone technology and business in Utah.

The resolution, sponsored by Orem Republican Rep. Val Peterson, notes that Utah universities have several programs working with the technology. It also states that Utah is “well positioned” to help the Federal Aviation Administration as it develops regulations.

The unmanned aircraft have mainly been used by the military, but governments, businesses and even hobbyists are eager to start exploring possible uses for small unmanned aircraft.

The domestic drones, which often look like radio-controlled model airplanes and helicopters, have been proposed to assist with fighting wildfires, mapping future roads and surveying crops.

Those are invaluable uses, said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, who sat on a committee that supervised the state’s pitch to the FAA.

“It’s unbelievable where this industry is headed,” said the Layton Republican. “So I think the challenge is making sure that we don’t infringe on our rights, yet we allow the industry expand to where it’s productive for society.”

Stevenson said he expects Utah and other states to readjust their drone laws in years to come as the industry continues to develop.

The FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but is working to set up guidelines by the end of 2015.

Utah was one of 24 states that applied to the FAA to serve as a drone test site but wasn’t among the six selected late last year.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development said in December that they would still like to see the unmanned aerial systems industry develop in the state.

Digital Defense Surveillance, an Ogden company that manufactures, sells and trains people to use drones, supports the restrictions Stephenson is proposing, company CEO Troy May said Thursday.

“We’re trying to help Utah stay ahead of the curve,” he said of the regulations. May’s company sells primarily to law enforcement.

Ken Wallentine, a spokesman for a committee that represents law enforcement agencies at the Legislature, said in an email Thursday that the committee unanimously voted to oppose the bill.

He said the committee had not authorized him to speak further on the issue.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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