California Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoes Drone Regulation Bill

For now, drone hobbyists in California can continue flying low over private property without permission.

by / September 10, 2015

The drone-privacy debate will continue among those in the California Legislature: On Sept. 9, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have placed tighter regulations on the use of low-flying drones near private property. The bill, which passed the Assembly by a vote of 56-13 and the Senate 21-12, would have required consent by a land owner for a drone to traverse his property under 350 feet. Brown said the bill needs more work before it should become law.

“Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination,” Brown wrote in his veto message. “This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action. Before we go down that path, let’s look at this more carefully.”

Tech companies that are heavily invested in drones like Google, Amazon and GoPro lobbied against the drone regulation bill. Following the purchase of Titan Aerospace, Google plans to conduct its first test flight of high-flying drones later this year. Amazon continues to toy with Prime Air, a drone delivery service that will inevitably reach consumers around the world.

In addition to Brown's reasoning for vetoing the bill, another argument frequently cited is the narrow lane for drone travel that would have been created by the new regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now prohibits hobbyist drone flight exceeding 400 feet, and the California bill would have prohibited drone flight over private property under 350 feet. Others pointed out that while 350 feet of elevation would provide some privacy to land owners, it's not enough to prevent drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and powerful zoom lenses from potential spying operations.

As the debate continues, proponents of drones argue that privacy issues can be managed amid a burgeoning industry that is expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and billions in national economic profit. Such estimates are difficult to substantiate, but the argument's conceptual substance is equally difficult to ignore.

Conversely, those putting privacy before utility and wealth warn that once technology has disrobed the world, returning to a fully clothed state may prove impossible.

In 2013, Oregon passed similar legislation that prohibits drone flight up to 400 feet over private property without permission.