At all levels, law enforcement agencies of all types are increasingly using drones to conduct their work. Outside of established protections established in the Bill of Rights and freedom of information laws like Minnesota’s Data Privacy Act, few restrictions currently exist on the use of drones. However, the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of Minnesota legislators are trying to update laws to address privacy concerns.
A new drone bill, supported by the ACLU, would restrict the ability of law enforcement to use drones for non-emergency situations. In addition, it would require law enforcement to dispose of data collected on individuals other than the intended target, unless the data collected provides evidence of criminal activity. In that event it would still be subject to the Open Field Doctrine, which enables law enforcement to arrest people for criminal acts they are observed committing on private property.
Under current law, drones can be used to search for both criminal suspects and missing persons. If the footage in question is not part of, or does not become subject to, a criminal investigation, it would generally be considered public information under Minnesota’s public records law, the Data Practices Act.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairs the Senate Judiciary and Public Finance Policy Committee. Along with Sens. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, Limmer worked to advance a version of the bill this spring but temporarily shelved the measure in response to concerns from law enforcement agencies. Limmer says he is particularly concerned that law enforcement agencies often indefinitely hold data not pertinent to a criminal investigation, including drone images.
“We don’t believe that data needs to be held and collected into perpetuity,” said Limmer.
Earlier this week, Northfield Area Fire and Rescue responded to an emergency in a rural area outside Dundas. Two individuals’ inner tubes deflated while they floated down the river and they were left stranded. Rescue personnel used a drone, privately owned by one of the department’s members, to help locate the individuals in need and provide help more quickly.
Northfield Fire Chief Gerry Franek said that Fire and Rescue has used the drone before, but that this was the first time they’ve used it in an emergency situation. Previously, they’ve used it to track down criminal suspects and for training purposes. He says Fire and Rescue hasn’t devised any formal in-house rules on drone usage, just that they use it “when appropriate.”
By contrast, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie told a House-Senate panel on data practices last month that the Dakota County Sheriff’s Department has put in place tight guidelines for drone use. Leslie said that all drone use is examined on a quarterly basis by the county’s Sheriff-Citizen Advisory Council.
Minnesota Newspaper Association Attorney Mark Anfinson says he and others are concerned that the bill prohibits law enforcement agencies from using a drone in non-emergency situations without a warrant. Anfinson worries that since law enforcement receives so many calls about emergency or near-emergency situations, law enforcement officials would struggle to discern what situations would qualify as a true emergency under the law. Faced with such uncertainty, law enforcement officials could err on the side of caution out of fear of being accused of misconduct — preventing them from deploying drones in appropriate situations.
“It would impose a whole new set of extremely complicated and detailed rules … on top of the complicated and detailed rules they already have to follow when using technology,” Anfinson said.
Bill proponents say they’ve worked closely with law enforcement agencies to address their concerns. They argue that new restrictions on drone usage and related data collection are necessary to protect citizens’ privacy.
“Drones are new and powerful tools,” said Julia Decker, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “In working with law enforcement to craft exceptions in this bill, we’ve acknowledged the real-world benefits of drone usage. However, drones are also unique in the potential for secret surveillance.”
Limmer and the committee have continued working with law enforcement agencies to help address their concerns. He says he’s optimistic that the committee will be able to come to an agreement and produce a thoughtful, balanced drone regulation bill for the full Legislature’s consideration.
“Law enforcement is using all sorts of surveillance gadgets, but there’s been very little legislation around proper use of them,” Limmer noted. “The challenge is to find balance between public good and privacy concerns.”
A new bench located on the west side of White Sands Dog Park is more than a resting point, especially for local artist Josh Akers.
The bench is unique in the sense that it’s embellished with a burning technique called Lichtenberg art, but apart from being an artistic piece, it also honors Akers’ late aunt, Diana Gardner.
“My aunt lived here [in Faribault] all her life,” said Akers. “She was an inspiration to the community, took care of a lot of foster kids and was quite the teacher. She also had a lot of fun memories of the dog park when it was a swimming pool watering hole, so to speak.”
On Wednesday evening, more supporters than Akers expected joined him for a small dedication of the bench. Mayor Kevin Voracek, Parks & Recreation Director Paul Peanasky and members of the White Sands Dog Park Task Force were among the guests, as was Akers’ family.
Akers bought the bench, an old-fashioned school desk for children, at the Salvation Army. To achieve Lichtenberg burning art technique he applied to the bench, he removed a transformer from a microwave and passed 5,000 volts of electricity between two electrodes while in contact with the wood. The result is a series of branch-like patterns, which he manipulated to a certain extent but otherwise allowed to take form on its own.
If a person were to get struck by lightning and live to tell about it, he said the mark on the skin would look like the Lichtenberg burning patterns. It’s no “shock” he calls this technique “pretty dangerous.”
The bench is bolted down to a concrete podium, and on the front of the block is another creation by Akers — a plaque that reads “In loving memory of Diana Gardner/Love you to the moon and back.” Star Trophy made the maple plaque for Akers, who applied the Lichtenberg technique to this piece as well.
Under his own business Joshua Trees, Akers specializes in Lichtenberg art as well as copper wire and bonsai trees. He learned both these art forms from YouTube about a year and a half ago and since has created several pieces he calls “high voltage creations.”
When he’s not making art, Akers himself enjoys the White Sands Dog Park. He visits the quiet oasis with his dog, Izzy, and encourages other artists to make and donate art work to the park.
White Sands Dog Park is located on Lyndale Avenue between Seventh Street NW and the Cannon River.
Every chair in Buckham West’s large meeting room was taken, leaving a few latecomers to mill around the exits as one speaker after another pointed to flaws in a proposed car club planned for 466 acres just off the interstate and a review of environmental impacts the completed development might cause.
Most of the more than two dozen speakers urged the Rice County Planning Commission to require a more thorough environmental assessment of the club known as Wolf Creek Autobahn. Some noted that the mandatory assessment, the subject of Thursday’s public hearing, was incomplete, and said that if built as planned, the noise from the project would undoubtedly exceed state and county limits. Only two speakers supported for the plan.
“I would appear that the Rice County Planning commissioners have two choices,” said Circle Lake resident Sam Sunderlin, “obey the state rule and stop the permitting process for the Wolf Creek Autobahn because their [Environmental Assessment Worksheet] noise study indicated that the project will violate noise pollution regulations when it opens [or] order an Environment Impact Statement.”
Environmental Assessment Worksheets are considered relatively concise while an Environmental Impact Statement is a comprehensive review.
Since the project was first pitched to county commissioners more than two years ago, developer Neal Krzyzaniak has fine-tuned his proposal. He’s said that the club would “be high end all the way” and that it would attract serious car aficionados.
According to county environmental Services Director Julie Runkel, the project would stretch across County Road 1 and include 300 garage villas, a 5.6-mile road course and 1-mile kart course, a 150-site RV park, a 32,000-square foot clubhouse, 4-acre event area, convenience store, an auto sales/service shop and possibly a “high-turnover sit-down restaurant.”
Several speakers noted that the study’s section on noise didn’t take some of the club’s amenities into account.
“Additional site features like the outdoor event space, skid pad and RV park are not included in the model,” it said. “These activities should be incorporated into a noise mitigation plan as part of the conditional use permit.”
That didn’t sit well with several speakers.
Others wondered about why traffic mitigation plans didn’t extend to the I-35 exits at Hwy. 19 and 21 where motorists looking to avoid backups would turn. Still others feared that the development would negatively affect plant and animal life on the site and alter their quality of life, bringing traffic and noise, and taking away the peaceful existence they now enjoy.
The additional pavement would cause flooding, said Elizabeth Hamilton, who lives on nearby Bagley Avenue, noting that hear front yard already fills with water from time to time. And, she said, there’s no deal with the city of Faribault on an extension of sewer lines to the property.
The City Council initially expressed interest in an agreement with the club to take some of its available sewer capacity. But it leaned away from that in May, saying it might consider an agreement with the city of Medford only.