Jerry Brown Shoots Down Drone Bill (Pun Intended)

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

(Ferenstein Wire) – California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a controversial drone privacy bill Wednesday, declaring that it would expose hobbyists to excessive litigation.

Senate bill 142 would have held anyone flying a drone less than 350 feet above someone’s property liable to trespassing.

“Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination. This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation,” he wrote in a veto statement [PDF].

In other words, it would be easy for a hobbyist to be flying a drone around his neighborhood or at a park and accidentally run afoul of trespassing laws. Indeed, to give readers an idea, PC magazine found that the popular DJI Phantom 3 drone lost communication when it hit 400 ft in altitude and 1,2000 ft in distance.

In other words, hobbyist and toy drones really aren’t meant to go much beyond 350 ft.

That means that if a neighbor sees a hovering drone over their yard, it’s as likely to come from someone who lost control of their device as it is from a sophisticated peeping Tom. Drones are the equivalent of a baseball that occasionally ends up on the neighbor’s property. (Except this baseball is equipped with a 12-megapixel camera.)

Brown’s veto had the support of the the powerful tech electronics lobby, the Consumer Electronics Association, which said it was pleased with the decision.

California isn’t alone. In total, the National Conference of State Legislators counts 19 states with drones laws on the books, many of which prohibit voyeurism. Mississippi’s law literally refers to “peeping Tom” activities [PDF].

To be sure, unless a litigious neighbor catches the drone operator, it is difficult to know whether the flying object was taking photos. And, if photos were taken, they’d have to also show that it was done with the intent to catch the subject in various states of undress.

As such, drone-related privacy is a difficult thing to legislate. For now, California, the home of Silicon Valley, has erred on the side of protecting drone enthusiasts.

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