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Mixed Actions From Brown On Drone Legislation

Jae C. Hong / AP
 

Jae C. Hong / AP

One thing is clear after Gov. Jerry Brown signed one bill regulating drone use in California in recent days but vetoed several others: Drones will attract attention – and legislation – for years to come.

The governor signed a ban on using drones to record audio or video of private property without permission. It’s intended to protect celebrities from paparazzi and the rest of us from perverts.

But he vetoed a broader measure that would have prohibited drones from flying over private property without the owner’s permission – and, the bill’s critics argued, public property too. ”This bill...could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action,” Brown wrote in his veto message. ”Before we go down that path, let's look at this more carefully.”

The industry advocacy group TechNet says that bill would have applied to all drones “in a way that made them very difficult to use for pleasure or for commerce,” says John Doherty, TechNet's vice president of state policy and politics.

Doherty says the tech  industry is waiting for the FAA to set rules for private and commercial drone use – as it does for airplanes. He says the industry is open to state laws addressing specific areas of concern, such as invasion of privacy, “but it’s the broad, regulatory grab without a clear pathway about how to deal with the unintended consequences that we worry about.”

Civil liberties supporters wish the governor had signed that broader bill.

“People are rightly concerned when there is a drone hovering over their backyard,” says Kevin Baker with the ACLU.

Baker says the problem with signing one bill and vetoing the other is that it’s impossible for someone to tell whether the drone flying over their home is recording or not.

“Californians want to have reasonable restrictions on the use of drones to protect their privacy,“ Baker says, “and we are grappling with how to strike the balance now.”

The ACLU says it’s even more concerned about how law enforcement groups might use drones. That’s one of many drone-related bills that California lawmakers will consider next year.

Brown also rejected bills that would have banned drones from flying over schools, prisons and wildfires. Those measures were included in a mass veto message objecting to the creation of new crimes.