St. Bonifacius, population, 2,286 in Hennepin County, may well be one of the first in Minnesota to pass a local ordinance restricting unmanned aerial drones, known as “spies in the skies.” A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by pilots on the ground. It is used for reconnaissance and surveillance.
The City Council’s new ordinance bans the use of drones 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 is calling for a two-year moratorium on use of the drones in Minnesota. It calls on the Congress and the state Legislature to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained unlawfully from the 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.
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. Boni 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 the U.S. Congress has passed a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015. The FAA predicts over 10,000 drones could be in use within the next five years.
In its resolution, the St. Boni council says the rapid implementation of drone technology poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people.
It can be armed with missiles and bombs and can be aloft up to 85 hours.
Use of drones by the U.S. government has come under fire, because while it has targeted enemies, it also has killed innocent civilians.
Even as the St. Boni City Council was developing its ordinance, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky conducted a 13-hour filibuster forcing the government to state its policy on use of drones.
The technology involving the use of drones 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. Boni City Council, the American Civil Liberties Union is also concerned over the lack of safeguards while using this “big brother in the sky.”
The council says so far the federal government and the state of Minnesota have failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones.
That’s why the council believes taking the time and spending the money is worth it, even if it’s coming from one of the smallest communities in the metropolitan area.
Don Heinzman is the former editor of the Elk River Star News. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.