State House panel considers privacy-related bills

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington lawmakers on Thursday considered three bills related to privacy concerning drones, government surveillance and online content.

The bills, heard before the House Technology & Economic Development Committee, were introduced by state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, who said that the intent is get rules in place before technology gets too far down the road. The bills come amid a national debate over government surveillance sparked by revelations of extensive federal monitoring of telephone activity.

House Bill 2178 would ban the unauthorized use of drones, or other unmanned aircraft with sensing devices, in the airspace above private property. Under the measure, drones, which could include those capable of gathering personal information such as photos, could be used on private property if permission is given from landowners or tenants of the property and if the drones are labeled with the owner's contact information.

The bill also states that unmanned aircraft could be flown over public land if it's flown in a manner that does not unreasonably interfere with the rights of others or isn't otherwise prohibited by law. Violation of the rules could result in a gross misdemeanor charge.

The bill was introduced after the House committee was tasked with taking a look at what Morris called invasive technologies.

"Drones aren't inherently bad. It just depends on how they are used," he said. "This just says if you've got recording devices and stuff, you have to get permission."

Several people who testified at the hearing said they felt the bill would go too far.

Mark Slayton of Bremerton said he believes the bill seeks to protect privacy where privacy is explicitly not guaranteed.

"If I want to look inside someone's house, I can see in from the street," said Slayton, who told the committee he was also a member of a group who flies unmanned vehicles as a hobby.

He suggested the bill be rewritten to address specific intrusion into the immediate surroundings of a home.

Concerns were also expressed about how the bill would affect the use of drones used in fighting wildfires.

Miland Walling of the Washington Fire Commissioners Association said the group supports the use of the devices to help fight wildfires.

With drones, "we can monitor a fire 24 hours," he said. "In search and rescue, we can fly day and night, which is really a positive."

Morris said the bill isn't intended to interfere with firefighting efforts and asked Walling to work with him in revising it.

Two other bills were also heard Thursday. One, House Bill 2179, would prohibit state and local governmental agencies from conducting unauthorized surveillance on private property using extraordinary sensory devices. These would include devices unseen and undetected by the public, Morris said.

Another, House Bill 2180, would allow people to remove content they have posted online. It's similar to a law passed in California that allows teens to remove content they have posted. The Washington bill would allow anyone to remove content they have posted.