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Maine State Police Toy Drone Purchase Raises Concerns
03/01/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The Maine State Police purchased a $300 toy drone in January. The move comes amid growing concern nationally and in the state about unregulated use of drones for surveillance. Police say they're studying the drone for future use, but civil rights advocates say the purchase is a reminder that common sense restrictions need to be implemented. Patty Wight reports.

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The Maine State Police's purchase was discovered by the watchdog organization MuckRock. The toy drone is called a "Parrot." At about 2-feet long and 2-feet wide, it resembles a toy airplane, with a Star Trek edge.

A promotional video of the Parrot drone evokes a romantic, innocent image as a young man sends it to a park to gently tease a child and flirt with a young woman, all the while catching their reactions through streaming video.

But the Maine State Police's purchase of the drone doesn't bring such warm and fuzzy feelings to Shenna Bellows of the Maine ACLU.

"I think the concern comes from the complete lack of regulation in the state of Maine," she says. "So until the Legislature acts, there are no legal prohibitions on how this drone, or any other drone, might be used."

Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland says the drone is only being field tested at this point to see how useful it may be for law enforcement.

"Well, three things come to mind that it might be helpful for in life-saving situations: a lost child, a hostage situation, a barricaded person," he says. "That aerial vantage point may be helpful for investigators to resolve those situatuions in a safe and peaceful manner."

Democratic Sen. John Patrick, of Oxford County, has introduced legislation that would require Maine police to obtain a warrant, court order, or an individual's permission before deploying a drone.

Steve McCausland says the Public Safety Department will work with lawmakers to ensure such legislation that is helpful to all involved parties.


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