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California bills tackle drones, personal privacy

April 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A state senator from Los Angeles wants to regulate the use of unmanned drones in California. The lawmaker says people's privacy and safety could be at stake.

California lawmakers are trying to stay ahead of what was once a science-fiction technology. They're taking steps to ensure that drones are used properly outside the military world.

Unmanned drones are already being used in California for things like helping farmers survey their land and geologists look at remote areas. Lawmakers say it's now time to regulate them.

The Federal Aviation Administration is projecting the number of commercial drones in U.S. airspace could exceed 10,000 by 2020.

"I first heard that drones were used in the agriculture sector, that's one thing; in forestry, that's another thing. When there was rumors that TMZ wanted a license to operate their own drone, that really raised some red flags," said state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).

The Senate Public Safety Committee OK'd Senator Padilla's bill that protects people's privacy, essentially making it a crime to spy with a drone, and it would require law enforcement to get a warrant to use one.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the proposal needs to be tougher on government.

"As Californians, we have the right to privacy in our Constitution, and the courts have protected that pretty strongly," said Valerie Small Navarro, an ACLU spokesperson. "The wise thing to do would be to actually have a moratorium."

The privacy issue has already led L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca to order realtors to stop using drones to take pictures of large estates.

In the Bay Area, Alameda County encountered resistance from the community when it wanted to buy a drone in part to keep an eye on demonstrations.

One group of protesters though already has a drone of their own to keep an eye on the cops.

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) also has a drone plan. With experience as a Naval Reserve intelligence officer in Afghanistan, he sees the technology's potential and wants California to be the epicenter of drone manufacturing.

His bill would extremely limit government's use of drones while opening up the market for everyone else.

"It has nothing to do with spying on people in their backyard," said Gorell. "So the hysteria is overplayed and it's frankly ridiculous."

Both bills do agree one thing: the measures specifically ban weaponizing drones.


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