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TRENTON, NJ—Warrantless surveillance by airborne drones, and even unmanned aerial vehicles with weapons attached to them, are still considered legal in New Jersey.

On Tuesday January 21, Governor Chris Christie pocket vetoed the bill that would have put restrictions on the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).  He gave no explanation for his decision.

Now, as Christie begins a second four-year term as Governor, the bill is dead and must undergo the same legislative approvals from both the State Senate and Assembly before it can make its way back to Christie’s desk.

The proposal suggested restrictions including the prohibition of attaching weapons to the vehicles, selling any information recorded to third parties, and requiring police officers to obtain a warrant before using a UAV to conduct any kind of surveillance.

The office of Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson (D-14) told New Brunswick Today that legislators are “in the process of reintroducing the bill.”   The new bill number is A1039.

The proposal’s synopsis says that it will establish “certain standards to be followed by law enforcement agencies and fire departments when utilizing drones.

Assemblyman Benson had championed the first bill that had passed both houses by a wide margin.

The State Senate approved the bill by a vote of 34-2, and the Assembly passed it by an overwhelming 76-1 vote with one abstention.

Christie’s office did not respond to inquiries from New Bruswick Today.  The Governor’s spokesman Michael Drewnaik can be reached at [email protected]

In a press release issued earlier this month, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of NJ (ACLU-NJ), Udi Ofer, said “drones will likely be flying New Jersey’s skies by next year… We will need laws that protect both public safety and the privacy rights of New Jersey residents. This bill would have done just that.”

“Christie has chosen to let the clock run out on a bill that would have given New Jerseyans some of the strongest civil liberties protections in the nation against abusive drone surveillance.”

The ACLU’s Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin told New Brunswick Today that the bill “would only have put limits on law enforcement use of drones, not private, commercial, or hobby use.”

“As we know well from the revelations about the NSA’s domestic spying operations, information collected by private parties or corporations can find its way into government databases and files… We must make sure that law enforcement cannot simply circumvent critical privacy protections by going through back doors of private drone operators.”

As we reported earlier this month, Rutgers University has been approved to carry out tests on drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and that drones have been used on the Rutgers-New Brunswick/Piscataway campus for at least five years.

Matthew L. Wald of the New York Times wrote that the Federal Aviation Administration “picked six institutions to operate test locations,” for various small-sized helicopters and planes.

Wald continues, “Virginia Tech [University]… will fly in Virginia and has an agreement with Rutgers University in New Jersey for testing there as well.”

“Virginia Tech plans to conduct “failure mode” testing, meaning what happens if the aircraft’s control link is lost.”

One of the most well known drones used by the U.S. government overseas have surveillance equipment as well as advanced weapon technology including missiles and chemical weapons.

These vehicles, known as Predator drones, have inspired much criticism and question-asking from those concerned with the safety of innocent bystanders in the Middle East.

The United States government has admitted that at least four U.S. citizens have been shot and killed overseas by Predator drones.

Ainteractive online slideshow produced by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and titled “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” has collected comprehensive data on drone warfare.

The slideshow starts with the following sentences.

“Since 2004, drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,207 people in Pakistan. Less than 2% of the victims are high-profile targets. The rest are civilians, children, and alleged combatants.”

A recent NYU/Stanford study also writes in its Executive Summary that “US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians,” and that “current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents.”

Reporter at New Brunswick Today

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.

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Molly O'Brien

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.