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Drone bill gives SAN DIEGO cops broad power

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2015 | Firm News |

Drones.  I remember in law school talking about the plain view doctrine.

Could the drone be buzzing like a bee in front of someone’s yard just watching them?  Coud a drone be buzzing behind someone walking every day? This does not sound bad for the person who think this will just be for the San Diego drug dealer.  What happens if it is for the ordinary person who is doing nothing?  You have to be concerned about handing over such a potential of rights violation.

If someone does not know what the heck that is and knocks it down are they being charged with vandalism?

When I read the article I can see some value in the drones.  I can also see danger.

If the program is implemented it is vital to have strict protocol.  A violation of said protocol should not amount to any lost evidence, but a potential harassment lawsuit.  It will be interesting to see how this turns out.


Eager to fight more crime from the sky, a law enforcement group has sponsored a bipartisan bill that would give police broad freedom to use drones in California, but privacy advocates say the legislation could open the door to mass government surveillance.

The bill, SB 262, would authorize police to use drones as long as they comply “with protections against unreasonable searches” in the United States Constitution and the California Constitution and any other applicable state or federal law.

It is one of a half dozen bills that seeks to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles so far this session at the state Capitol. The measure is sponsored by the California Police Chiefs Association and is being carried by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, and Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon.


A competing bill would require police obtain a warrant before using drones except in emergencies. Yet another bill would restrict drones from flying over private property.

With the potential that thousands of private and government drones could soon take to the sky across California, legislators are scrambling to craft rules that foster the burgeoning industry but also safeguard the privacy rights it threatens.

In pushing for SB 262, law enforcement officials say they aren’t asking for any new powers.

Instead, officials say they simply want the existing police power of surveillance extended to unmanned machines.

“You have to leverage advanced technology,” said Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano, president of the California Police Chiefs Association and former chief of the San Diego Police Department. “The advantage (of drones) for law enforcement is they will be able to get a closer view, from a public space, without being detected.”

Kevin Baker, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said the bill could severely diminish privacy for ordinary citizens.

“Drones present a real threat of intrusion into our civil rights. We need some proper rules and safeguards,” Baker said, adding that SB 262 has no such protections. “I think that drones aren’t exactly the same as helicopters. Drones can go places helicopters can’t. … I think it’s too easy of an argument.”

Supporters say the bill won’t lead to dramatic changes from what already takes place.

“Law enforcement already has many of the tools we’re talking about,” said Aaron Maguire, legislative counsel for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, citing police helicopters equipped with video cameras. “We’re just talking about the technology in a different package.”

Maguire said his association had not taken a formal position on the bill, but called it “probably something we would support.”

Anderson said the key to his bill is its simplicity. It gives police no more and no less power than they already have, he said, whereas past drone bills have been “too complicated.”

The senator, who has pushed for privacy rights in the Legislature, said he’ll do the same when it comes to regulating drones, but without going too far.

“There has to be (privacy) protections. We have to draw those lines,” Anderson said in an interview. “At the same time, we can’t put up artificial barriers.”

While some local law enforcement agencies have acquired drones, or expressed interest in doing so, few, if any, are using them yet. They must go through a lengthy and strict Federal Aviation Administration application process to use them.

New rules proposed by the FAA last month could allow thousands of businesses and law enforcement agencies to operate drones weighing 55 pounds or less if operators pass a written proficiency test, register the drone and pay about $200 in fees. Those rules are subject to a long review period and likely won’t go into effect until 2017.

In the meantime, local agencies, such as the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, are keeping a close eye on the evolving drone rules.

“We see the potential value of drones for search and rescue, tactical operations, infrastructure protection, etc.,” Jan Caldwell, the agency’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “However, a cautious approach is best, when we balance public safety, legal/technical concerns, and privacy issues.”

The department hasn’t taken a position on the pending legislation.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have required police to obtain a warrant before operating a drone, except under emergency circumstances. The governor said it was too restrictive. The state police and sheriffs associations also opposed the measure.

In December, Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, introduced AB 56, a bill identical to the one rejected by the governor. He said in an interview earlier this year that he would work with law enforcement to understand their concerns about the legislation.

Maguire, of the sheriffs’ association, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that all sides can agree on legislation if more scenarios under which police could use drones without a warrant, such as during a forest fire, are added.

All sides in debate on drone rules, including law enforcement, will be watching another high-profile bill at the Capitol this year, SB 142.

Introduced by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, the bill would make it a crime for drones to be flown above private property without permission.

That measure is more broadly written than last year’s “anti-papparazzi” drone bill, which was signed into law by Brown. That law includes heavy fines for those who use drones to invade privacy and capture photos and video for commercial gain.

Jackson’s bill would apply to any drone that flies “below the navigable airspace overlaying the property,” according to her bill.

Her proposal stems from a recent experience where the senator said she came “eyeball to eyeball” with a neighbor’s camera-equipped drone that flew into a private backyard and took photos of her while she and her husband were having coffee with friends.

“That was quite disconcerting,” Jackson said at a recent Senate committee hearing. “It felt like a tremendous invasion of privacy.”

The full article can be found here.

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