North Dakota police will now be able to chase down a suspect and drop them with a taser, all without leaving the comfort of their cruisers. A new bill legalizes the use of “less than lethal” weapons with drones. That means not only drone-mounted tasers, but also the possibility of pepper spray, rubber bullets, and anything else that isn’t actually designed to kill people.
The state’s House Bill 1328 wasn’t intended to promote drone weaponization. It was originally drafted by Representative Rick Becker to require warrants for drone surveillance but, according to the Daily Beast, a drone-industry lobbyist managed to amend the bill.
Instead of Becker’s original and explicit ban on drone weapons, the bill now only bans lethal weapons. “In my opinion there should be a nice, red line: Drones should not be weaponized. Period,” said Becker.
The bill comes amidst a whole mess of questions about drone legality. In fact, it was intended to force police forces to obtain warrants before using drone-mounted cameras to snoop.
But the legalization of weaponized drones doesn’t mean they’ll be used. As part of its specially-granted status to test commercial drones, North Dakota’s Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department is–unusually–under the “jurisdiction” of the University of North Dakota’s drone research department. That could change, but currently, according to Popular Science’s Kelsey D. Atherton, “police here are subordinate to the university.”
“Since 2012, any drone use in North Dakota has had to go through an ethics review board at the University of North Dakota,” says Atherton. Things could change, but it seems unlikely that the university will green-light taser-drones.
Interest in commercial drone use is exploding, and it would be preferable if such ethics reviews were enshrined in law. What we don’t want is drone pilots operating their “non-lethal” weapons from far-off office buildings, remote from the people they’re attacking, like the drones used by the U.S. military. Ethically, military drone use is already on shaky ground. Using the technology to both spy and fire on the nation’s own citizens shouldn’t be regulated by industry lobbyists.