The Hennepin County town of St. Bonifacius, population, 2,286, may well be one of the first cities in Minnesota to pass a local ordinance restricting use of unmanned aerial drones, known as “spies in the skies.” Drones are controlled by pilots on the ground and used for reconnaissance and surveillance.
The St. Bonifacius City Council’s new ordinance bans drone use within the city’s airspace without a warrant, except where immediate death or serious injury exists. Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor.
Further, the council calls for a two-year moratorium on use of the drones in Minnesota. It also wants Congress and the State Legislature to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained unlawfully from domestic use of drones from being introduced in the federal and state courts.
The resolution precludes the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices designed to harm, incapacitate or otherwise negatively affect a human being and pledges not to use city-owned leased or borrowed drones.
St. Bonifacius residents can fly a drone only over their own property. So far, the community has not received a complaint about drones invading its airspace.
St. Bonifacius is not alone with its concern. A bill has been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that also would prohibit the use of drones for gathering evidence or information on individuals except for high-risk instances or after obtaining a warrant.
State Sen. Sean Nienow of Cambridge reports that Congress has passed a law requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015. The FAA predicts more than 10,000 drones could be in use within the next five years.
In its resolution, the St. Bonifacius City Council says the rapid implementation of drone technology poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people.
U.S. government use of drones has come under fire, because while drones have been used to targeted enemies, they also has killed innocent civilians. Drones can be armed with missiles and bombs and stay aloft up to 85 hours.
Even as the St. Bonifacius City Council was developing its ordinance, Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky conducted a 13-hour filibuster forcing the government to state its policy on use of drones.
The drone technology boggles the mind. Some say that these unmanned “snoops” equipped with sensors can tell how many people are in a structure. It’s even possible that by involving other technologies, the drone could eavesdrop on a conversation.
Like the St. Bonifacius City Council, the American Civil Liberties Union is also concerned about the lack of safeguards while using this “big brother in the sky.”
The St. Bonifacius City Council said neither the federal government nor the State of Minnesota have provided reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones. That’s why St. Bonifacius leaders believe taking the time and spending the money on its anti-drone ordinance is worth it, even if it’s coming from one of the metropolitan area’s smallest communities.
Don Heinzman is an ECM columnist and editorial writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org