The California state legislature approved a proposed bill on Wednesday that would permit state law enforcement agencies to deploy drone technology for citizen surveillance purposes after first obtaining a proper warrant from a state court. The bill was passed by a 56-1 vote and now awaits endorsement by the Governor before it becomes state law.
The Los Angeles Times reported on the bill and the legislature’s rationale for their near-unanimous decision:
Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) said that the expanded use of drones by law enforcement “has changed the paradigm of what we believe to be our reasonable expectation of privacy.”
"Because of that technology … it’s incumbent upon [the Legislature] to make sure we lay down a basic framework [and] guidelines for government to use these when they’re monitoring human behavior," Gorell said in an interview Wednesday.
The bill requires the government to get a warrant to use drones for surveillance, except in cases of environmental emergencies, such as oil spills or chemical spills.
The bill was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Law enforcement groups were less enthused with the measure, arguing that unmanned surveillance should be treated no differently than manned surveillance.
Three other states, including Virginia and North Carolina, have placed a moratorium on drone use by state and local agencies.
"We don’t want to do that here in California," Gorell said, adding he wants to see drone manufacturing jobs in the state.
"But if we want to attract that industry, at the same time we have to send a signal that we’re respectful and cognizant of the privacy concerns of basic Californians as a result of this proliferation of this technology," he said.
There is a strong possibility that California could set the trend for other states to follow in developing legislation that regulates the seemingly inevitable implementation of drone technology into local law enforcement practices, especially when considering that the bill had the support of one of the more nationally vocal privacy advocates, the ACLU. (If you’re interested in seeing the current status of drone regulation in any of the states, click here.)