Weaponized Drones Legal in U.S., Bill Author Worries Fighting Crime Will Be ‘Like a Video Game’

AP/Gregory Bull
AP/Gregory Bull

(Ferenstein Wire)Drones can now legally fight criminals in the United States with non-lethal weapons, thanks to a recently-amended bill in North Dakota. The law’s author Rep. Rick Becker originally wanted to require police to secure a warrant for drone surveillance.

But then, local law enforcement managed to sneak in the right to equip drones with tasers or rubber bullets by amending the original prohibition against lethal and non-lethal force to just limiting lethal weapons. Becker worries that this new franken-bill will have dramatic unintended consequences.

“I think it’s important to maintain the humanity in making decisions to deploy weapons against another individual,” he tells the Ferenstein Wire. “We can’t depersonalize it and make it like a video game.”

As for now, Becker says he “has no knowledge” that police are equipping drones with tasers to hunt down criminals. But, he was certain that local law enforcement did know what they were doing when they amended the law, so he suspects it could be an issue in the near future. “Clearly it was important to them to add that provision,” he says.

Drones have faced varying regulations around the country. Back in 2013, Virginia passed a temporary moratorium on state use of drones, so officials could probably assess the safety and ethics before releasing them into the wild. On the flip side, Amazon.com has been aggressively lobbying all levels of government to ease restrictions so they can unleash a fleet of drone delivery vehicles (because who doesn’t want tacos to rain down from the skies?).

North Dakota shows how the nuances of local politics could influence the future of drone laws. Representative Becker is only a part-time legislator. He doubles as a plastic surgeon. When the Ferenstein Wire called him to confirm a few facts, his phone rang at his medical office, and he seemed unaware that the story had reached the national spotlight.

Becker has a job outside of governing because North Dakota will meet again to consider drone laws in 2017. North Dakota has a part-time state legislature that convenes on odd-numbered years. “A legislature that only meets half time can only do half as much damage as one that meets full time,” he quips. Until then, law enforcement has at least another full year to start arming drones.

That’s quite a head start.

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