CARSON CITY — Constitutional and privacy concerns were raised Thursday with a bill that would allow law enforcement officers to seize and search crashed or abandoned unmanned aerial vehicles to identify their owners.
Senate Bill 234 by Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, would provide direction to law enforcement on how to deal with drones that have crashed, are grounded or disabled or that may have been used in a crime.
Hammond said his bill is needed to regulate such situations as drones become more popular with the public.
The measure would require a warrant for a law enforcement officer to search a drone’s data if there was a belief it was involved in the commission of a crime. But it would allow a warrantless search to identify an owner where there is no issue of a crime being committed.
The bill would also license and regulate drone storage facilities, much as is done now for abandoned or seized motor vehicles.
Chuck Callaway, representing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, supported the measure for clarifying how law enforcement officers can address the issue of a crashed or abandoned drone.
But the section of the bill that would allow a law enforcement officer to search the data contained in a drone in an effort to identify the owner raised concerns with some witnesses in the hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee.
John Piro, representing the Clark County Public Defenders Office, said data contained in a drone would likely be considered similar to someone’s smartphone information, which requires a search warrant before it can be examined. This would be the case even for a search to identify the owner, he said.
A similar concern was expressed by Holly Welborn, representing the ACLU of Nevada.
Piro said he will offer an amendment to the bill to resolve his concerns. No immediate action was taken on the bill.