Warrantless Drone Surveillance Banned in Tennessee

Source: http://blog.tenthamendmentcenter.com


11-28-2012 7-04-31 PMOn Monday, Governor Bill Haslam signed The Freedom of Unwarranted Surveillance Act, into law. This bill was introduced by Senator Mae Beavers, and had a roller coaster adventure through the legislative process. But it eventually passed – unanimously – in both state houses.  The tally was 32-0 in the Senate and 91-0 in the House.

The new law states that drones are prohibited with the following exceptions:

(1) To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States secretary of homeland security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk;
(2) If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing the use of a drone; or
(3) If the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life. (a very high bar in legal standards)

A party aggrieved by a violation of this bill may initiate a civil action against a law enforcement agency to obtain all appropriate relief, as determined by the court, in order to prevent or remedy a violation of the new law. Evidence obtained or collected in violation of this new law will not be admissible as evidence in a criminal prosecution in any court of law in the state.  Any law enforcement agency that uses a drone, or other substantially similar device to gather evidence or obtain information, must comply in all respects with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and article I, section 7, of the Constitution of Tennessee.


Some activists have criticized the bill due to the particular exception allowing one person in the federal government to authorize drone use. While it does raise legitimate concerns, as things existed before today, Tennesseans had no protections against drones.

Prior to the new law, without The Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act:

1. The DHS could call on Tennessee to use drones for any “non-emergency” situation it wants.

2. The DHS could call on Tennessee to use drones for any emergency situation it wants.

3. Law enforcement in Tennessee could use drones in any situation they want.

Signing the bill into law eliminates number one and number three, so this bill ushers in a MASSIVE improvement over the status quo.

At this stage in the ‘drone game,’ the feds are working hard behind the scenes to get states to operate the drones for them.

In fact, the primary engine behind the expansion of drone surveillance being carried out by states and local communities is the Federal government itself. Department of Homeland Security issues large grants to local governments so that those agencies can purchase drones. Those grants, in and of themselves, are an unconstitutional expansion of power.

The goal? Fund a network of drones around the country and put the operational burden on the states. Once they create a web over the whole country, DHS steps in with requests for ‘information sharing.’ Bills like these put a dent in this kind of long-term strategy. Without the states and local communities operating the drones today, it’s going to be nearly impossible for DHS plans to – take off.

In fact, this has been as much as confirmed by a drone industry lobbyist who testified in opposition to a similar bill in Washington State, saying that such restrictions would be extremely destructive to the drone market and industry.

Without the new law signed by Governor Bill Haslam, the only thing standing between Tennessee and a full-fledged drone surveillance state was a little funding. And that’s coming down the pike in most states.

While the The Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act might not have been the perfect bill, it is a solid law which provides strict regulations on drone use. Activists in Tennessee need to keep the pressure on to ensure that further restrictions are put in place in the future.


If you’re outside of Tennessee, please contact your own legislators regarding anti-drone legislation. If none has been introduced in your state, you can email them The Privacy Protection Act model legislation.

Track the status of drone nullification in states around the country HERE

About Kelli Sladick

I’m originally from Ohio. I’m a veteran of the US Navy. I graduated from undergrad with two degrees and one in graduate school. My current home is Nashville, TN.


Photo added to original post.