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Drones may seem like a dream for law enforcement agencies wanting to put cameras in the sky for easy airborne surveillance, but a bill that sailed through the California legislature seeks to require a warrant for all but the most urgent spying reports Cnet.
Introduced by Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, the would-be law, known as the Unmanned Aircraft Systems bill, easily passed both houses of California's Democratic-majority legislature late last month. It is now awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Brown has until the end of September to make a decision.
Although the bill addresses and permits many non-law enforcement uses by government agencies of drones -- which it refers to formally as "civil unmanned aircraft systems" -- the heart of the proposed law is geared toward ensuring that police obtain court-issued warrants before deploying the flying devices for most surveillance.
To many, that's key given that drones equipped with sophisticated camera equipment are increasingly able to hover quietly and for long periods of time at altitudes well below where helicopters, which police have long used for warrantless surveillance, can fly.
The legislation, AB 1327, would allow police free use of drones in "emergency situations" such as fires, hostage crises, chases, and search and rescue, as well as to help first responders, among other situations. But beyond that, the bill would require probable cause and a court-issued warrant.
"The [US] Federal Aviation Administration, by 2015, has been mandated by Congress to authorize drones to be integrated into our airspace, and so it's on our doorstep," said Sam Chung, Gorell's policy director. "Right around the corner, drones will be integrated into our airspace. So it's up to states to implement common sense privacy laws."
The FAA's mandate comes even as NASA has begun an effort to implement a traffic management program, much like that which oversees standard aircraft, for commercial drones.
Added Chung, "We wanted to put in privacy restrictions so the public is assured it's not going to be monitored" without a warrant.
For now, it's unclear what decision Brown will make. A spokesperson told CNET that the governor doesn't comment on pending legislation.
Read more at Cnet.com/news
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