The California Assembly voted this week to place restrictions on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones. The bill, AB-1327, passed on Wednesday with overwhelming bipartisan support. The state's official legislative website reports that the bill passed 63-6. It will now move on to a state senate for consideration.
Authored by assemblymen Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), AB-1327 would require police to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before operating a drone or contracting others to do so. Though, it does make an exception for unwarranted use for "emergency situations if there is an imminent threat to life" and the inspection of state parks. The bill would also require that any footage or data be destroyed within six months of collection, as well as prohibit drones from being weaponized.
Gorell rejected the idea of a moratorium on UAVs like the one in Virginia. He clarified to the Los Angeles Times, "I don't think that's the right answer here. The right answer, frankly, is for us to embrace the new technology because it is the future." Additionally, he told Reuters that he believes that California stands to benefit from the development of commercial drone use.
Nevertheless, Gorell, a former Navy Reserve commander, is knowledgeable and cautious about their capabilities, such as thermal imaging. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has previously warned, this technology provides law enforcement with a means to conduct unwarranted searches of homes.
The Tenth Amendment Center's Michael Maharrey explains the significance of state-based limitations on drones:
We know that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using grant money to get drones in the hands of local law enforcement… 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… By passing state laws to restrict drone use, we can stop this nightmare before it ever takes off.
California isn't the only state crafting legislation to limit the use of drones. Iowa, Indiana, Georgia, and Wisconsin are among states currently considering drone-related legislation. In 2013, 13 states adopted new laws about drones.