PHOENIX - Fearing new intrusions into privacy, two state legislators are moving to restrict how aerial drones can be used in the skies over Arizona.
Two proposals set for committee debate today would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using the unmanned aerial aircraft to gather evidence without first getting a search warrant.
And both measures say any evidence they gather without a warrant would be inadmissible in civil or criminal proceedings.
There are some technical differences, including exceptions.
But the sponsors of both measure say they fear this eye-in-the-sky technology is outrunning Arizona's existing privacy laws.
Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, sponsor of one of the measures, said many of his constituents are familiar with the drones, either personally or through the news, because of their use by the military in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But when the Federal Aviation Administration announced earlier this month it intends to create six sites around the country to test drones, that literally brought the issue home.
In fact, Rep. Tom Forese, R-Chandler, is sponsoring a measure awaiting House floor action to try to have Arizona chosen as one of the locations.
But Forese, who is also the sponsor of the other privacy measure, said there needs to be an understanding that with the benefits of the drones come risks.
"On one hand you have economic development," he said.
"We're talking about millions of dollars and thousands of jobs," Forese explained, with the FAA believing that unmanned aircraft could be the future of aviation in this country.
"On the other hand, you have significant threats to our privacy," he said. "I take them very seriously. We're talking about the potential to be searched without a warrant," he said.
Forese's proposal, HB 2269, would allow police to use drones without a warrant when the Department of Homeland Security determines there is "credible intelligence" of a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization, and where rapid deployment of a drone aircraft could save lives or serious property damage, or stop a suspect from escaping.
Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said his worries go beyond misuse by police.
"I actually feel that I have a greater threat from somebody running down to Fry's Electronics and buying a $300 video helicopter and flying around my house … than having Big Brother peeping overhead," he said. "But I think both need to be addressed."
At the moment, though, HB 2269 addresses only limiting law enforcement use of the drones.
That is not the case with Dial's proposal. Aside from restrictions on police, HB 2574 would make it illegal for any individual to use a drone "to monitor other persons inside their homes or places of worship or within the closed confines of their property."
House Majority Leader David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said Arizona needs to convince the federal government of the state's suitability for drone testing.
He said the state has plenty of open airspace in Southern Arizona, allowing the aircraft to be operated from Fort Huachuca all the way to Yuma.
But Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, warned colleagues against letting their desire for economic development overwhelm the constitutional rights of Arizonans.
"I know we're desperate for jobs," she said. "But I would caution (using) that as our underlying motivation for doing something that in the future would compromise our civil liberties for the sake of money."
Gowan, however, said legislators need to understand that drones, by themselves, do not mean an automatic intrusion into privacy.
He noted there already are lots of aircraft in the skies.
"We could do that right now if we wanted to take pictures of backyards," he said.
Dial conceded the point.
"I think the difference is the camera" indiscriminately taking pictures or video, he said.
Forese said it is up to legislators to be thinking about the impacts of these drones.
"Part of our job is to look into these things very, very carefully," he said. "I think we need to make sure we strike the right balance."
The FAA action follows a year-old congressional mandate to find sites to test drones for military and civilian use.
The ultimate goal is to allow drones into U.S. airspace currently limited to manned aircraft by 2015.