Crime & Justice

Governor vetoes bill that would have required police to get warrant to use drones

Deputy Troy Sella from the new technology department of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) launches the SkySeer Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) drone, 16 June 2006 at a demonstration flight in Redlands, California.
Deputy Troy Sella from the new technology department of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD) launches the SkySeer Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) drone, 16 June 2006 at a demonstration flight in Redlands, California.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill this weekend that would have required law enforcement agencies in California to get a warrant to use drones for surveillance assignments.

Assembly Bill 1327, introduced by Assembly Member Jeff Gorell (R – Camarillo), would have limited how police and other public agencies could use drones including how long they could keep data collected by drones. It also would have prohibited law enforcement from adding weapons on the drones unless allowed by federal law.

There were exceptions in the bill for public safety emergencies such as a hostage crisis, fires, or hot pursuits – situations when people or first responders would be in danger. 

In his written veto message, Governor Brown said there were instances where a warrant is appropriate but said the proposal in front of him was too restrictive.

“The bill’s exceptions however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the 4th Amendment or the privacy provisions of the California Constitution,” Brown said.

Gorell called the veto decision disappointing in a released statement. The bill, he said, provided common sense protections to protect privacy right and civil liberties. He underlined that the proposal was the only drone privacy protection bill that was passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor’s Desk.

“We live in an era of government surveillance, where powerful government agencies like the NSA and IRS have demonstrated blatant disregard for Americans’ privacy rights,” Gorell said in a statement.

The California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriff’s Association and the Los Angeles District Attorneys Association opposed the bill.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. Times and the San Jose Mercury News supported the bill – both cities have police departments that have acquired drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, as they are technically called.

This month, the president of the L.A. Police Commission asked the LAPD inspector general to take custody of two drones the police department received in March from the Seattle Police Department.

The so-called mini-choppers will stay locked up, said police commission officials, until guidelines for how the LAPD will use them are set. The department intends to present a drone draft policy to the civilian police oversight commission in about six months.

Most recently, the FAA has given a handful of movie companies approval to use drones for television and film production.

The FAA is required to integrate drones into national airspace by September 2015, according to the 2012 reauthorization bill. That same bill directed the FAA to allow public safety agencies to operate small drones that weigh no more than 4.4 lbs. The machines must be flown during the day, in the line of sight of the person controlling it and fly no higher than 400 feet above the ground. Law enforcement agencies who want to use these small drones have to apply for a permit with the FAA.