OLYMPIA — The state House on Monday passed two bills that would restrict the use of drones and government surveillance in Washington state.
House Bill 2789, which was approved by an 83-15 vote, would limit the purchase and use of unmanned aircraft systems by state and local agencies.
Under the measure, state agencies and municipal governments could obtain drones or other unmanned aircraft only after getting approval from their governing body. The drones could be used only with a search warrant and in other circumstances including: emergencies with an immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury; criminal emergencies with immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury with no time to get a warrant; for military training on a base; training and testing of devices if no personal information is collected; a governor-declared state of emergency; or for an operation such as environmental or wildlife monitoring.
Agencies using drones would have to prepare annual reports available to the public that describe details of their use. Anyone who claims that a violation of the provisions has injured his or her business, person or reputation could sue the agency for damages, attorney fees and other litigation costs.
Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said he supported the bill because technology now allows people to be watched without their knowledge.
"This calls for reasonable regulation so we don't have warrantless searches of the public, to control what might be fishing expeditions," he said.
Rep. Christopher Hurst, a former police officer, spoke against the bill, saying the technology should be allowed to develop further before restrictions are put in place that are difficult to remove.
"Although well-intended, this legislation is premature," he said.
Also Monday, House Bill 2178 passed by a vote of 92-6. It would ban the unauthorized use of drones, or other unmanned aircraft with sensing devices, above private property. Under the measure, drones, including those capable of gathering personal information such as photos, could be used on private property if landowners or tenants give permission and if the drones are labeled with the owner's contact information.
The bill also states that unmanned aircraft could be flown over public land if they don't unreasonably interfere with the rights of others or aren't otherwise prohibited by law. Violation of the rules could result in a gross misdemeanor charge.
Both bills will now head to the Senate for consideration.