May 04, 2015
SACRAMENTO – A bill by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) that would prohibit drones from trespassing on private property without the owner’s permission and invading Californians’ privacy just passed off the Senate floor on a bipartisan vote. The vote was 24-9.
California law already prohibits someone from entering someone’s private property – their home or backyard, for example – without their permission, and prohibits them from photographing or recording conversations. Senate Bill 142 clarifies that the rules pertaining to trespassing and the physical invasion of privacy also apply to entry by remotely operated aerial vehicles known as drones.
“Drones have a lot of useful and extremely innovative uses. But invading our privacy and property without permission shouldn’t be among them. When we’re in our backyards, with our families, we have an expectation that we have a right to privacy, “ said Jackson. “We assume that our daughters can swim in a backyard pool without fear of being videotaped. But drones have upended all those expectations, and it’s important that we set reasonable boundaries so that our privacy and security remain intact. This bill would extend our long-established definitions of trespassing and privacy, and bring them into the 21st century, by applying them also to drones.”
SB 142 would not impact of the use of drones in public spaces – such as roads, beaches, schools, public utility easements, and other spaces where drone use is not restricted -- nor in the navigable airspace approximately 350 feet above ground, which is subject to federal regulation.
Owners would also be free to use drones on their own property, or on property in which they had been given permission by the owners to use drones. In addition, the bill preserves the ability for commercial drones to be operated between 350-500 feet above ground for commercial drone use, should that use eventually be needed.
Jackson’s bill was introduced days after a drone was flown onto the White House lawn. Following the incident, President Obama has called for more regulation of drone use. In recent weeks, the use of drones near the Golden Gate Bridge has prompted security concerns.
Often, drones are equipped with video cameras and sound-recording equipment. As they become more widespread, the potential for colliding with established privacy rights increases.
“This bill establishes clear rules so that we can prevent problems from occurring,” said Jackson. “Drones are an emerging and exciting technology. But because they can easily travel over fences and other structures, we need to take extra precautions to ensure they don’t compromise our privacy or security and blur long-standing boundaries between public and private space.”
Jackson is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees legislation on privacy issues. She represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.