Gov. Brown Backs Tech Industry over Drones

Newport Beach, CA

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed legislation last week aimed at protecting privacy by banning drones from flying within 350 feet above a property without the owner’s consent.

Despite broad public support for restricting drones, it seems Brown chose to protect the interests of Google, Amazon and others that see the drone industry as the next gold rush.

Following the veto, Brown wrote: “Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination.” However, he added: “This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”

Author of the bill, State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), said the legislation was designed to protect against the kind of peeping Toms that U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein said had a drone look into her front room window one day earlier this year. Jackson said drones “should not be able to invade the privacy of our backyards and our private property without our permission.”

Google entered into a 60-year lease last November to co-locate with NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. The effort appeared to pave the way for the formation of a partnership between NASA, Google and Amazon to develop and roll out an automated national air traffic control system for drone flights.

Breitbart reported in July that NASA had trumpeted plans to launch “Persistent System” to manage the expected growth of commercial drone uses for surveillance, search and rescue, low altitude radar, agriculture, cargo delivery, media and entertainment at its first Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management Convention held at the Ames Research Center.

Gur Kimchi, who heads Amazon’s Prime Air division, said as the event’s keynote speaker that it was crucial to restrict radio-controlled “hobby drones” to operate at the lowest elevations to avoid running into the speedy Internet-connected and auto-piloted aircraft that Amazon’s Prime Air and hundreds of other companies plan to fly.

Convention facilitator Parimal Kopardekar of NASA told the audience that he has been leading an Ames project for the last two years to develop a multi-layered drone management system in the Moffett Field’s massive Hanger One. He emphasized, “Right now, you have Google, Amazon and a few others developing large-scale commercial drone operations.” He added, “in 10 years, every home will have a drone, and every home will act as an airport.”

The Consumer Electronics Association has led opposition to all Sacramento legislative attempts to restrict drones. The trade group opposed the latest bill by claiming that the state will accrue tens of millions in economic gains if drones are allowed to fly.

Gov. Brown usually is very supportive of privacy issues. But he seems to have been convinced by the tech industry that drones are a disruptive game-changing technology with huge economic prospects.