SACRAMENTO, January 31, 2014 – On Wednesday, the California state assembly passed a bill to strictly limit the use of drones within the state. The vote was 63-6.
Assembly Bill 1327 (AB1327), sponsored by Assemblymembers Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to use a drone.
The legislation includes some narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement to allay the fears of law enforcement officials, who did not want to be hamstrung in emergency situations when a drone’s use might spell life or death. The legislation spells out such situations to include “fires, hostage crises, ‘hot pursuit’ situations if reasonably necessary to prevent harm to law enforcement officers or others, and search and rescue operations on land or water.”
In all other situations, a law enforcement agency would be able to use a drone only if it first obtains “a warrant based on probable cause.”
“While we as a legislature and as a state try to attract the jobs in aviation, we also have to balance the growing concern about unmanned vehicles,” the bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Jeff Gorell, told Reuters.
The bill also sets strict standards governing the use of a drone when authorized. It would require public agencies to destroy data collected by drones within six months and would ban the weaponization of drones in California. Evidence obtained in violation of the act would be inadmissable as evidence in an administrative or judicial proceeding. Local governments would be authorized to implement additional restrictions beyond the state standards set by the bill.
The ACLU has weighed in on the issue on a national level, warning that “unregulated drone use could pose serious threats to our privacy.”
Reports suggest that American skies could be filled with drones starting in 2015, with some saying that as many as 30,000 could be flying without restriction. Some privacy advocates take the position that this is just the beginning, pointing to the fact that one of the primary engines behind state and local adoption of drones is the federal government.
“We know that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using grant money to get drones in the hands of local law enforcement,” said Michael Maharrey, communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. “DHS and other federal agencies will never need to fly a single drone if they can just get all the states doing it for them. Once they’re in the air, they’ll simply point to information-sharing provisions of the PATRIOT Act or other federal acts and have a network of spies everywhere,” he continued. “By passing state laws to restrict drone use, we can stop this nightmare before it ever takes off.”
Inside sources say to expect more states passing such laws this year. A similar bill passed the South Carolina house by a vote of 100-0 earlier this month. And, this week, an Indiana house committee gave preliminary approval to another. That bill is expected to come up for a state house vote in the near future.
Last year, a number of states passed laws restricting drone use, including Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
AB1327 has been transmitted to the state senate, where it will first be assigned to a committee for additional consideration. If it passes that committee by a majority vote, the state senate will have the opportunity to send the bill to the Governor’s desk for a signature.
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