SALT LAKE CITY — Police could use drones for search-and-rescue operations and training without a search warrant under certain conditions, according to a revised bill that cleared a House committee Tuesday.
A new version of HB296 allows unmanned aerial vehicles for people searches in areas where there is no expectation of privacy such as a forest. Police would still need a warrant for searches in urban areas.
The bill also allows testing and training in areas limited to 3 square miles where there are no occupied structures.
Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, reworked the measure after the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Libertas Institute last week said it would create loopholes in a law governing drone use the Legislature passed last year. They were concerned it would let police use unmanned aerial vehicles to spy on people inappropriately.
But after working with Sandall on changes, those organizations now support the bill.
"It did make the bill better," Sandall said.
Police agencies shy away from using the technology because of the law's strict data collecting and reporting requirements, he said. Sandall wanted to create exemptions for some specific purposes.
Under the bill, police would still have to report drone use for search-and-rescue operations but not for testing and training.
Box Elder County has a state grant to build an unmanned aerial vehicle test center.
The House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee unanimously approved the bill. It now goes to the House floor for debate.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill prohibiting Utah law enforcement from gathering information using an unmanned aerial vehicle without a search warrant supported by probable cause. The bill also created requirements for storage, retention and disposal of data collected by drones.
The measure requires the Utah Department of Public Safety to report its use of drones annually to the Legislature, including the number of times drones were used, the nature of the investigations, data gathered and cost.
Meantime, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the Small UAV Coalition are raising awareness about recreational use of drones.
Under newly proposed rules, the Federal Aviation Administration will allow certain small unmanned aircraft systems (under 55 pounds) in non-recreational airspace and provide more options for public input on the use of "micro" drones less than 4.4 pounds.
“We understand the increasing use of drones but want to make sure the public understands that the issue of appropriate use is still being discussed and hasn’t fully been implemented yet,” said Marshall Wright, director of GOED's aerospace and defense economic cluster.
He encouraged people to visit the website knowbeforeyoufly.org.