Drone Policy Added To State Surveillance Laws

Apr 27, 2015

Drones have become an ambitious new frontier, finding applications in the private and public sectors. But Florida lawmakers are still trying to stay ahead of curve by limiting the use of the flying technology.

Credit BBC

With rampant surveillance, weaponized drones in the Middle East and even private companies like Amazon considering them for delivery, people are worried about how far drones can go.

Sen. Dorothy L. Hukill (R- Port Orange) and Rep. Larry Metz (R- Yalaha) have bills that would further regulate the unmanned aircraft. Metz described his bill at a civil justice subcommittee in March.

“What it does is, it prohibits a person or state agency or political subdivision from using a drone to record an image on privately owned property, or the owner, tenant or occupant of such property with intent to surveil without their permission,” Metz said.

In 2013, Sen. Joe Negron (R- Stuart) had a notable bill that restricted the use of drones by police, and Governor Rick Scott approved it.

The privacy angle has been the igniting spark behind the legislation, and unsurprisingly it’s a very important angle to the committees who have heard them. Senator Hukill addressed privacy concerns raised by Sen. Aaron Bean (R- Jacksonville) during a recent hearing on her bill.

“If I’m at a public event and I want to take a picture of a festival or a large crowd,” Bean asked, “can I still do that, or would that be a violation?”

“I’m assuming that where this particular game is being held is not private, I don’t know if it’s privately on property or not, so for instance, if I have a ball field in my backyard- you know, build it and they will come- I could obviously prohibit that if they intend to surveil,” Hukill said.

But there are questions about private use of drones by hobbyists. They worry new rules will restrict the use of their flying cameras. One such hobbyist is Charles Lockwood, who lives in Tallahassee local.

“If a person is flying because that’s their hobby, and they’re in or near a park, and the back of their property butts up against the park, and you’re just an enthusiast, all of a sudden, you’re essentially breaking the law by doing nothing more than enjoying the hobby that you’re doing,” Lockwood said.

He’s not the only one worried about legislation. Sen. Darren Soto (D- Orlando) says the drone laws in South Carolina have exemptions for journalism and news gathering and asked Hukill why her bill didn’t have the same exemptions. Hukill said she had considered it, but the bill has not been amended to include anything about news gathering.

The proposal has already cleared the Senate and is awaiting a final vote in the House.