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Maine Bill Aims to Restrict Domestic Drone Use
02/05/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The use of drones is getting national attention this week. Maine Sen. Susan Collins has joined a bipartisan group of senators asking the Obama administration to justify their use to kill Americans suspected of terrorism. Drones are also getting some scrutiny at the local level: Maine is one of 11 states considering restricting their use. Patty Wight has more.

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Democratic Sen. John Patrick of Rumford isn't against drones all together. He just thinks they need to have their proper place - and right now, that place is wide open.

"I feel like Americans should not be forced to live under the constant watchful eye of unmanned aircraft hovering around us and sending footage of our daily lives going back to police headquarters," Patrick says.

Patrick is sponsoring a bill that would restrict Maine law enforcement's use of drones. It would require them only to be used with a warrant, except in extreme cases of terrorism or other life-threatening situations.

He says he consulted with his sheriff in Oxford County, who supports the general concept, though Patrick doesn't know whether he supports the bill.

But Patrick says he hears support when talking to other lawmakers with law enforcement experience, "and basically have said effective policing requires trust between citizens and law enforcement, and that indiscriminant constant surveillance by unmanned drones breaks that trust."

Drones aren't being used in Maine yet, but Maine ACLU spokeswoman Rachel Healy says now is the time to act. She says there's concern the Federal Aviation Administration could relax federal rules prohibiting the use of drones.

"We want to make sure that this law is in place so that if and when they do come to Maine, we will already have the protections in place," Healy says. "Because it's far easier to put the protections in place now than try and backtrack later."

Sen. Patrick agrees that too often the Legislature is reactive versus proactive. While it's unclear what opposition his bill faces in Maine, battles are brewing in other states. The Montana Legislature, for example, is considering a bill that would impose more severe restrictions, and prohibiting outright state government from owning or using unmanned aerial vehicles.


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