The commercial drone industry and press freedom groups are applauding California Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto of a controversial bill that would have prohibited the flying of drones lower than 350 feet over private property without the owner’s permission.
The California State Senate approved the bill in August with author Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson claiming that UAVs “should not be able to invade the privacy of our backyards and our private property without our permission.”
Brown disagreed: “This bill … while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action,” the governor stated in his response. “Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination. Before we go down that path, let’s look at this more carefully,” he added.
The bill had been opposed not only by UAV trade groups but also journalists. Last week, the National Press Photographers Association sent Brown a letter opposing SB 142 and pointed out that the bill’s draconian measures could stifle free reporting of the news.
“Under the bill’s current form, journalists could be sued if a UAS they operate were to stray into the ‘airspace overlaying the real property’ of owners while actually gathering newsworthy information of a different nearby location,” wrote NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher.
The NPPA further noted that the bill contained no method of establishing the exact height of a drone, whether a drone in fact overflew the property, or whether the violation of the statute was intentional or unintentional.
“As pertains to newsgathering, it will be daunting if not impossible for journalists to obtain the ‘express consent’ from a wide range of property owners, as the bill requires, especially during breaking news events,” Osterreicher stated.
The Consumer Electronic Association quickly praised Brown’s block. “While we agree issues of privacy and drones should be addressed, this legislation was the wrong approach,” said CEA president Gary Shapiro.
“With this veto, the Governor has set a path for drones and other unmanned aircrafts to continue revolutionizing a wide array of consumer and commercial activities, creating new businesses and jobs and providing life-changing solutions,” Shapiro stated. “Safe, responsible drone use will transform the way we do business — allowing these devices to assist in search and rescue and disaster relief missions, improve crop production and efficiency, and create safer work environments for infrastructure maintenance,” he added.
So far this year, 45 states have considered 156 drone-related bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.