California Legislature puts restrictions on government UAS use

By Patrick C. Miller | September 04, 2014

A bill passed with bipartisan support by the California Legislature puts restrictions on government use of UAS, requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before deploying the technology.

California Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to either sign or veto AB 1327, the bill authored by Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, Calif. It’s intended to protect the privacy rights of Californians by establishing basic restrictions on government UAS, Gorell said.

“This landmark legislation bans weaponized drones and protects Californians from having their privacy invaded,” said Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, Calif. “The potential for abuse of drones is high and we need to be vigilant to ensure our Constitutional rights are protected.”

The bill prohibits public agencies in California from using UAS or contracting for their use, but provides an exception when UAS “achieves the core mission of the agency and the purpose is unrelated to the gathering of criminal intelligence.”

The legislation requires law enforcement agencies to provide reasonable public notice when they intend to deploy UAS. Except in certain cases, images, footage or data obtained by UAS must be permanently destroyed within one year. The law generally prohibits information obtained by UAS from being distributed outside the collecting public agency.

Unless authorized by a federal law, the bill prohibits UAS from being equipped with weapons or devices intended to cause injury or death to people or damage and destruction to personal property.

“Over the next decade drone technology will become much more common in California’s airspace,” Gorell said. “There are tremendous benefits that can be realized from these tools, but only if we first pass the legislation that will protect our civil and privacy rights from abuses of the technology. As the tech capitol of the nation, California should also lead in protecting our privacy from intrusions by new technology.”

AB 1327 has been endorsed by the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News. It’s supported by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 535. However, organizations representing police chiefs and sheriffs opposed the measure.