Thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist, it is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with ‘less lethal’ weapons such as rubber bullets, tear gas, tasers, sound cannons and pepper spray.
Less lethal weapons can kill. At least 39 people have been killed by police Tasers in 2015 so far, according to The Guardian. Bean bags, rubber bullets, and flying tear gas canisters have also killed and maimed people in the U.S. and abroad.
When State Rep. Rick Becker introduced H.B. 1328, the law both banned weaponized drones and established a procedure for law enforcement to seek a warrant before using drones in searches. Only the warrant requirement survived.
After the state officially signed Becker’s original bill into law back in April, the state house committee then allowed North Dakota Peace Officer’s Association lobbyist Bruce Burkett to amend HB 1328. Burkett’s amendment reversed the original bill’s course on outlawing the weaponization of drones, instead changing the bill’s language to allow drones to carry “less than lethal” weapons.
“This is one I’m not in full agreement with,” Becker said at a hearing in March, The Daily Beast reported. “In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: drones should not be weaponized. Period.”
“When you’re not on the ground, and you’re making decisions, you’re sort of separate,” Becker added.
The American Civil Liberties Union argues that police drones are a new kind of threat to that compromise between security and liberty. The group supports laws to restrict law enforcement’s use of them, and makes a compelling case that absent such restraints the technology is fundamentally at odds with the Bill of Rights.
In April Police in northern India began using drones that fire pepper spray on people who protest. In the UK the CAA says that drones can’t be flown within 150 metres of a congested area or any open-air gathering of more than 1,000 people. Nor can they be flown within 50 metres of any vehicle or person who isn’t flying the aircraft. Having drones that fire pepper spray at people would, therefore, not be allowed in the UK.