Three bills in the Virginia legislature seek to restrict warrantless drone usage by law enforcement, but make special provisions for higher education research.

TJ Martinell of the Tenth Amendment Center writes:

Virginia Legislation Would Stop Warrantless Drone Surveillance

Several bills under consideration this year in the Virginia General Assembly would restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) by government officials, banning their use in surveillance by law enforcement without a warrant based on probable cause.

House Bill 2125 (HB2125), House Bill 2077 (HB2077), and Senate Bill 1301 (SB1301) contain strong anti-drone measures to replace the two-year moratorium the state placed on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement, and in doing so became the first state in the U.S. to enact drone regulations.

HB2125 would stipulate that no law enforcement agency could utilize an unmanned aircraft system unless they first obtain a warrant. HB2125 would also make any evidence illegally obtained from a drone inadmissible in court. At the same time, it would not require a warrant for the Virginia National Guard when they use drones during certain circumstances or when used for purposes other than law enforcement such as assessing a flood or wildfire.

The bill also includes a provision banning use of any drone equipped with weapons.

SB1301 and HB2077 would make it a class 1 misdemeanor for a person to make, sell, or use a drone as a weapon or to deliver a weapon.

The two bills also include this provision:

No governmental agency or organization having jurisdiction over criminal or regulatory violations, including the Department of State Police, nor any local law-enforcement department, may procure a public unmanned aircraft system (drone aircraft) without the approval of the General Assembly or the local governing body, respectively.”

All three bills would allow public higher education institutions and other organizations to operate a drone aircraft “solely for research and development purposes.”

Such prohibitions would bring nearly all nefarious use of drones by government agencies to an end in Virginia.

Although drone use would still be permitted in specific circumstances, if passed these bills set a nearly-total prohibition on their use in areas of great concern, warrantless surveillance.