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Minnesota Lawmakers Take A Major Step Toward Regulating Police Use Of Drones

On Oct. 10, 2019, the Minnesota joint House-Senate Subcommittee on Data Practices unanimously passed Bill SC5562-5, aiming to regulate law enforcement use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and to classify data collected using a UAV.

If this bill is signed into law, it will authorize Minnesota law enforcement agencies to use UAVs (or drones) to carry out their duties. 

The bill would require police to obtain a warrant prior to using drones in the majority of situations, though there are several exceptions where police may use a drone without first obtaining a warrant:

  • During or in the aftermath of an emergency situation that involves the risk of death or bodily harm to a person

  • Over a public event where there is a heightened risk to the safety of participants or bystanders

  • To counter a risk of terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the agency determines that credible intelligence indicates this risk

  • To prevent the loss of life and property in natural or man-made disasters and to facilitate the operational planning, rescue, and recovery operations in the aftermath of those disasters

  • To conduct a threat assessment in anticipation of a specific event

  • To collect information from a public area if there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity

  • To collect information for crash reconstruction purposes after a serious or deadly collision occurring on a public road

  • Over a public area for officer training or public relations purposes

  • For a non-law enforcement purpose at the request of a governmental entity provided that the government entity makes the request in writing to the law enforcement agency and specifies the reason for the request and proposed period of use

The bill would also limit law enforcement use of drones by prohibiting the warrantless use of facial recognition or biometric-matching technology, warrantless collection of data on public protests or demonstrations, weapon mounting of drones, and more. 

In addition to authorizing direct use of UAVs by police, the bill would permit “a law enforcement agency to make otherwise private or nonpublic UAV data accessible to others if disclosure will aid the law enforcement process, promote public safety, or dispel widespread rumor or unrest.” 

Passing the Subcommittee on Data Practices means that the House and Senate committees will consider the bill next. As it moves through the legislative process, the bill is likely to face vigorous debate and further amendments, particularly considering previous versions had both House and Senate support during the 2019 session before backroom negotiations reportedly ultimately stifled the bill.  

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 294


About this Author

Clifford G. Maine, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Grand Rapids, Corporate Law Attorney

Clifford G. Maine is chairman of the firm’s Aviation Law Group. Mr. Maine's practice encompasses a wide variety of aviation law practice areas. He serves as general counsel to numerous aviation organizations, including the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport Authority.

Mr. Maine’s aviation clients include some of the largest corporate flight departments in the world. He has structured numerous aviation transactions, including domestic and foreign-based aircraft purchase and sale transactions, like-kind exchanges, timeshare agreements,...

Todd Dixon Commercial Litigation & Aviation Attorney

Todd A. Dixon is an attorney in Barnes & Thornburg's Grand Rapids and Indianapolis offices and focuses his practice on commercial litigation and aviation law.

Todd's practice encompasses a wide variety of aviation law practice areas. He has structured aviation transactions, including domestic and foreign-based aircraft purchase and sale transactions, like-kind exchanges, timeshare agreements, interchange agreements, joint and fractional ownership agreements, personal and executive use policies, FAA registrations, Capetown International Registry, and aircraft leasing transactions. Todd also provides legal counsel on aviation-related issues including aircraft ownership structures, federal excise tax planning, state sales and use tax planning, and depreciation planning. Todd frequently advises on aviation insurance coverage matters, warranty matters, ongoing service requirements, and regulatory requirements and enforcement matters.

In addition to his transactional practice, Todd represents clients in complex aviation lawsuits.

Prior to embarking on his legal career, Todd was a career military officer and pilot. During his twenty-year active-duty United States Air Force career, he amassed more than 2,000 flying hours, primarily in KC-135 and C-12 aircraft, operated in multiple combat environments throughout the world. Todd retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel. Trained and experienced in problem solving and accustomed to working in a fast-paced, unforgiving, and high stakes environment, he has leveraged that experience to provide timely, accurate, and focused legal services to clients.

Todd is extremely active in the legal community, specifically in the area of aviation law.

A leader in pro bono work, he provides substantial legal services to numerous nonprofit organizations and has been active in the Southern District of Indiana's Pro Bono Program.

Kenneth D. Suzan, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Minneapolis, Intellectual Property and Litigation Law Attorney
Of Counsel

Kenneth D. Suzan is of counsel in Barnes & Thornburg LLP's Minneapolis, Minnesota office and is a member of the firm's Intellectual Property Department.

Mr. Suzan has experience in the areas of trademark law, copyright law, Internet law, social media law, domain names, and service mark matters. He has counseled his clients on a variety of issues ranging from the inception of a trademark to ultimate registration, licensing and enforcement. Mr. Suzan counsels and assists wearable technology companies to protect brand names through trademark,...

Shane Solinger, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Minneapolis, Corporate, Finance and Bankruptcy Law Attorney

Shane Solinger is an associate in the Minneapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg, where he is a member of the Corporate Department.

Mr. Solinger gained legal experience as a summer associate for in the firm’s Minneapolis office and through an internship with Spectrum Brands, Inc. In those roles, he drafted responses to motions for summary judgment, motions for relief from automatic stays, complaints and answers; researched and drafted memoranda on diverse legal issues, including bankruptcy, real estate, business litigation, and various federal...