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Florida Poised to Become First State to Regulate Surveillance Drones

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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February 4, 2013

State legislatures around the country are gearing up to take action on domestic surveillance drones. Maine has a bill introduced, as do Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas. In Virginia a hearing has already been held on a bill, while Montana has three bills, and hearings have already been held there as well.

But perhaps the state furthest along is Florida, which may become the first in the nation to enact domestic surveillance drone regulations into law. I spoke with Ron Bilbao, who is an ACLU lobbyist in Florida, and here’s what he had to say about the situation there:

The bill was introduced by state Senator Joe Negron—a very powerful Republican who chairs the budget committee. The actual title of the bill is the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act,” which I think is perfect. There’s a companion bill in the House, also introduced by a Republican.

The bill went first to the Criminal Justice Committee, and on January 15th it went through that committee on a unanimous 7-0 vote. It was a very popular bill. In the hearing Senator Negron talked about how there must be a delicate balance between security and freedom, and said it’s not an appropriate role for the government to use drones to monitor the activities of Floridians. Members on both sides of the aisle had concerns about drones—a lot of the Republicans actually wanted tighter language. There’s a couple of exceptions in the bill currently, and some Republicans thought the exceptions were too broad and wanted to get rid of them.

We’re definitely pleased that so many people care about the civil liberties of Floridians, and protecting their Fourth Amendment rights.

The bill has to go through four more committees. That’s quite a bit, but it’s already on the agenda for the Community Affairs Committee for this Wednesday Feb. 6. And the last two are appropriations committees. Negron is the chair of the Appropriations Committee, and it will have little or no fiscal impact.

So what’s the bottom line, I asked Bilbao: is this actually going to become law? His reply:

It’s definitely looking that way. It has broad bipartisan support. Some Democrats are going to jump on soon and become co-sponsors. Everything I’ve heard so far has been positive. Public Defenders, Florida Sheriff’s Association, Florida Police Chiefs—all those folks were all in favor of the bill.

In fact, the Florida legislature hasn’t even officially convened yet. It officially starts on March 5, but the legislators have been moving the drones bill during their pre-session committee organizing meetings, apparently due to the importance they attach to the subject.

It ain’t over ‘till it’s over, of course, but it’s great to see Americans acting to get ahead of the curve on a privacy-invasive technology and put in place some sensible protections, without having to wait until after the disasters have already happened.

This post was updated to include mention of Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas as states where drone legislation has been introduced. This site has a list of legislation with links.

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