Washington state is a prime example of the power and obligation that states hold to protect their residents from unconstitutional abuses. On February 17 the state House passed two bills to provide safeguards for Washingtonians’ right to privacy.
The first bill, House Bill 2789, establishes restrictions on drone use for state and local agencies. It requires drone use to be accompanied with a search warrant and provides few and specific circumstances, under which a warrant would not be legally required. Additionally, agencies would have to report any drone use to the public on a yearly basis and violations of this law could be taken to the courts.
House Bill 2178 further strengthens this barrier against domestic surveillance and would ban unauthorized drones from flying above private property. Under this law, if an unmanned aircraft is flown above the property without permission of the landowner, it could result in a gross misdemeanor charge.
Both bills passed with an overwhelming majority in the House and outspoken support from lawmakers such as Rep. Roger Goodman from Kirkland. Goodman called attention to the capability of the drone technology, saying that it called for “reasonable regulation so we don’t have warrantless searches of the public, to control what might be fishing expeditions.” Now, both bills will head to the Senate to be considered.
This type of legislation is necessary, as there have been privacy issues in the state in the past. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) created a mesh network surveillance system capable of tracking individuals through various types of electronic devices they might carry on them. While the Department stated that the network would not be used for surveillance purposes, they refused to answer the public’s questions about the program’s safeguards. This lack of transparency paired with past corruption allegations against the SPD was a legitimate cause for privacy concerns. It took a great deal of public outrage and criticism for the Department to begin the process of shutting down the network this past November.
Now, grassroots efforts are being coordinated again to attack another corrupt and abusive agency: the NSA. Activists have brought the OffNow Coalition to Washington to fight against NSA surveillance on a state level. Local lawmakers are taking the next step and bringing the issue to the legislature with House Bill 2272. This bipartisan bill would make it state policy to cut off support and assistance to any federal agency that engages in warrantless bulk collection, which includes the NSA. If the bill is passed, it will be a huge blow to the agency and in effect, shut down its “Yakima listening post” in Washington.
The example of Washington State is proof that we do not have to wait for Congress, the president or the judicial system to stop the dragnet. We reside in a federalist system and thus, states have the power to protect residents from the threat of unwarranted and unconstitutional surveillance.