No drones over this small town, St. Boni council says

Emerging technology raises host of concerns


Don Heinzman
ECM Columnist

St. Bonifacius, population, 2,286 in Hennepin County, may well be one of the first in Minnesota to pass a local ordinance restricting unmanned aerial drones, known as “spies in the skies.”

The City Council’s new ordinance bans the use of drones within the city’s airspace, without a warrant, except where immediate death or serious injury exists. Violation of the ordinance is a misdemeanor.

Further, the council is calling for a two-year moratorium on use of the drones in Minnesota. It calls on the Congress and the State Legislature to adopt legislation prohibiting information obtained unlawfully from the domestic use of drones from being introduced in the federal and state courts.

The resolution precludes the domestic use of drones equipped with anti-personnel devices designed to harm, incapacitate, or otherwise negatively affect a human being and pledges not to use city-owned leased or borrowed drones.

Residents can fly a drone only over their own property. So far, the village has not received a complaint about drones invading the village’s airspace.

St. Boni is not alone with its concern. A bill has been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that also would prohibit the use of drones for gathering evidence or information on individuals except for high-risk instances or after obtaining a warrant.

State Senator Sean Nienow of Cambridge reports that the U.S. Congress has passed a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow drones wide access to U.S. airspace by 2015. The FAA predicts over 10,000 drones could be in use within the next five years.

In its resolution, the St. Boni council says the rapid implementation of drone technology poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people. A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle controlled by pilots on the ground. It is used for reconnaissance and surveillance. It can be armed with missiles and bombs and can be aloft up to 85 hours.

Use of the drones by the U.S. government has come under fire, because while it has targeted enemies, it also has killed innocent civilians. Even as the St. Boni council was developing its ordinance, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky conducted a 13-hour filibuster forcing the government to state its policy on use of drones.

The technology involving the use of drones boggles the mind. Some say that these unmanned “snoops” equipped with sensors can tell how many people are in a structure. It’s even possible that by involving other technologies, the drone could eavesdrop on a conversation.

Like the St. Boni City Council, the American Civil Liberties Union is also concerned over the lack of safeguards while using this “big brother in the sky.”

The council says so far the federal government and the State of Minnesota have failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones.

That’s why the council believes taking the time and spending the money is worth it, even if it’s coming from one of the smallest communities in the metropolitan area.

  • Samuel R. Kephart

    Domestic drone usage is ill-conceived, elitist, and end-runs our inherent Constitutional protections.

    Here are two (2), very well-produced, videos that anchor my points:

    Emmy Award-winning newscaster Shad Olson’s ‘The Great Drone Debate’, featuring US Senator John Thune (7:41):

    Here’s a mind-blowing, well-done animated short that really captures our collective angst that if the road to perdition is paved with good intentions, then domestic drones are a superhighway to an Orwellian panoptic gulag (3:22):

    For national security purposes, Americans are already subject to warrantless wiretaps of calls and emails, the warrantless GPS “tagging” of their vehicles, the domestic use of Predators or other spy-in-the-sky drones, and the Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of all our behavior through “data fusion centers.”

    America’s promise has always been the power of the many to rule, instead of the one. Ungoverned drone usage, particularly domestically, gives power to the one. 

  • Phil Fishman

    While I am certainly not condoning the use of drones or spying on American citizens, this might be one of the biggest reasons why people think way too much time and money and is wasted on government – passing such a mindless and unenforcable ordinance. First of all, St. Boni, as beautiful and pristine as it is, is not likely the target of any sort of strike (whether it be from a drone or some foreign government). Second, how exactly would this be enforced? I certainly hope and assume St. Boni has allocated taxpayer money to not only pass this mindless ordinance, but enforce it as well. I look forward to the news that St. Boni has become the first municipality that has invested in its own drone detection system – perhaps the misdemeanor fine payments will help recoup some of this cost. Here’s another idea…stop wasting time and money taking mindless stances against problems that don’t even exist. It would be akin of suggesting that St. Boni should passing an ordinance that it really, really doesn’t support sexual explotation of children. St. Boni taxpayers may want to keep an eye on what their public officials are up to – or maybe it’s such a uptopia that they now have time to worry about drones.

  • doobiebrothers

    so I’m not sure how this law is going to be enforced?