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State vs. spying: Bill aims to limit drones’ information gathering

Rep. Jeff Morris

A bill to regulate the gathering of information by private drone aircraft is poised for a takeoff in the Washington House.

The legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, faced no opposition at a hearing on Wednesday. It could receive a vote in the House Technology & Economic Development Committee sometime next week. That would set the stage for action by the full House.

Morris, who is chair of the committee, said a similar bill to regulate governments’ use of drones is being hashed out behind the scenes. It is expected to be introduced in the upcoming week.

Last year, a government-drones bill overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee. He said the measure would have restricted the public’s access to information gathered by local and state government agencies. Inslee put a moratorium on state agencies’ purchasing of drones until mid-2015 to give legislators another crack at drafting bills to address the issue.

Morris’ current private drone bill would prohibit anyone from flying a private, unmanned drone if the aircraft is equipped with a camera or other sensing equipment that could gather information without individuals’ consent. Information gathering would be allowed when consent had been obtained.

The bill would allow private unmanned drones to be flown if they have the owner and contact information on each one, plus the operators comply with the appropriate federal regulations. Someone caught gathering information with a drone from private property — or otherwise using a drone to invade a person’s privacy — could face misdemeanor criminal charges, plus be open to a civil lawsuit.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut’s Under the Dome page.

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