Calif. Assembly Approves Bill Restricting Law Enforcement Use of Drones

The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct surveillance activities, with several exceptions.

AB 1327 would establish some of the strictest guidelines for the use and implementation of drones, such as the Draganflyer X6, shown here, by government in the United States. MCT/Alan Berner

One Ventura County, Calif., lawmaker cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday in establishing privacy protections against the invasive use of drones by law enforcement, while another sought to rally support for a bill to protect the privacy of online consumers, on the eve of a make-or-break vote in the Senate on Thursday.

The Assembly, on a 59-5 vote, approved a bill by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, that would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant before using unmanned aerial vehicles to conduct surveillance activities, with exceptions for cases in which there is an imminent threat to the safety of officers or when authorities are searching undeveloped areas for illegal marijuana growing.

Gorell said the bill, AB 1327, would establish “some of the strictest guidelines for the use and implementation of drones by government in the United States.”

He argued that “the future of transportation is unmanned,” but before the public will accept the widespread use of drones, Californians must “be confident that this body is doing something to protect their privacy.”

Under the provisions of the bill, which next goes to the Senate, video surveillance conducted by drones would be treated differently from aerial surveillance conducted from helicopters or airplanes. The measure is opposed by the State Sheriffs’ Association, which asserts drones should not be treated differently from other aircraft.

Gorell believes stricter requirements are necessary because drones are fundamentally different in that they can continuously monitor a given location and “they are very stealthy.”

The bill is jointly authored by two Democrats, including Bill Quirk of Hayward.

“Drones are going to be extremely important for hot pursuit, for search and rescue, and — when you get a warrant — continuous surveillance,” Quirk said. He noted that police must now obtain a warrant before mounting a camera on a wall or a light post for the purpose of continuance surveillance.

In addition to the restrictions on law enforcement agencies, the bill also would require that all government agencies destroy data collected by drones within six months unless the data is needed for any ongoing investigative purpose.

A separate bill dealing with restrictions on use of drones by private entities, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, is awaiting action in the Assembly.

While the Assembly dealt with that privacy issue, the Senate is preparing on Thursday to take up a contentious measure authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, that would prohibit companies that sell downloadable materials online from using personal data collected from customers for any purpose other than protecting against fraud.

The measure is inspired by a Supreme Court ruling in a case involving Apple’s iTunes website that held online, downloadable purchases involving a credit card are not subject to the same prohibitions on the collection of personal information as are credit-card transactions conducted at brick-and-mortar stores.

A 1971 state law prohibits stores from gathering personal information from customers using credit cards.

Jackson said she anticipates a close vote, as the measure has divided interest groups. Business organizations, including the California Retailers Association and TechNet, are opposed and consumer groups, including the Consumer Federation of California, are in support.

Jackson said her bill, SB 383, seeks to strike a balance that will protect consumer privacy while still allowing online sellers of downloadable products to “gather information without limit, as long as it is used to combat fraud and theft — and then destroyed.”

The bill would allow such retailers to retain personal information provided by customers only if they specifically agreed to allow that.

©2014 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)


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