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Thursday, September 10, 2015

California Governor Vetoes Drone Trespass Bill

So reports the LA Times:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday vetoed legislation to restrict the use of drones over private property.

The legislation would have made flying a drone lower than 350 feet above private property without consent a trespass violation.

"Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination," Brown wrote in his veto message. "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.

Additional reporting on the bill (SB 142) and the veto is available here, here, and here.

The California bill was proposed in light of privacy concerns raised by low-flying drones. Supporters argue that drones may be equipped with cameras and by flying low over private property, they may capture invasive images or video of people on that property. Opponents of the bill note that the bill is difficult to enforce and may curtail people's freedom to operate drone technology.

A notable impact of this bill's veto is that law enforcement agencies will not be curtailed in their use of drones. As I blogged previously, Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have required warrants for law enforcement drone use back in 2014. In vetoing that bill, Governor Brown noted that the bill's protections went beyond Fourth Amendment restrictions on government searches and surveillance -- a justification that does not really mean much, since if the bill had not gone beyond Fourth Amendment protections, the bill would not have added anything to the legal landscape of government drone use.

The most recent drone trespass bill would have effectively limited government drone use had it been passed. Under United States v. Jones, the government carries out a Fourth Amendment search when it trespasses on somebody's property. Had SB 142 passed, it would have been trespass for drones to fly less than 350 feet above private property without the consent of the property owner. Law enforcement agencies would therefore be restricted from flying drones in such a manner, because the resulting trespass would constitute a Fourth Amendment search. Gregory McNeal advocates a similar approach for restricting law enforcement drone use in this paper.

Governor Brown's veto message noted his wish to avoid unnecessary causes of action against hobbyists. While the focus of much of the debate over this bill has been on private actors, it is worth noting that a significant restriction on government drone use has just been vetoed as well.

UPDATE: 9/11/2015: Title of post edited to correct misspelling.

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