Pierce County has no drones, but now has an ordinance limiting them

The Pierce County Council has approved an ordinance placing limits on the use of aerial surveillance drones, a measure its sponsor calls “pre-emptive.”

Council member Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake, spearheaded the ordinance out of concern the remotely operated aircraft could be used by government to spy on people and violate their privacy rights as they become more available and affordable.

The ordinance says no county department or agency shall use a drone or other remotely operated aircraft to gather evidence of illegal conduct “except as authorized by state and federal law.”

It still allows law enforcement to use drones with a search warrant or other legal authority. It prevents the county’s Planning and Land Services department from using drones without legal basis to determine whether people have permits for what’s on their properties.

The Sheriff’s and Planning departments both have said they have no drones and no plans to use them.

The council approved the ordinance Tuesday by a 4 to 2 vote.

Council members Connie Ladenburg and Rick Talbert, both Tacoma Democrats, voted “no” without comment.

Ladenburg previously opposed the measure — called “freedom from unwarranted surveillance” — at a committee meeting in August, saying she didn’t think it was needed.

Council member Jim McCune, a Graham Republican who was a cosponsor of the ordinance, was absent Tuesday.