Florida Senate Panel Votes To Ban Spying With Drones

A Florida senate panel has voted to ban state police from using drones to spy on citizens.

The Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act  (SB 92) will limit law enforcement’s ability to use drones to gather evidence against suspects.  Any such evidence would be made inadmissible in a court of law, and citizens would be able to sue agencies that violate the rules.

Last year Congress gave the Federal Aviation Authority the power to permit drone use by government public safety agencies, with the City of Miami police being the first agency in the nation to use the spy drones.

Fl Sen Joe Negron
Fl Sen Joe Negron

“These issues are about boundaries and there is a line to be drawn,” Sen. Joe Negron told the Orlando Sentinel after the bill he sponsored flew through the Criminal Justice Senate Subcommittee with a unanimous vote Tuesday. “You have to draw the line somewhere and so where I draw the line is having these unmanned drones hovering in the sky and potentially visualizing hundreds of these in the air over Florida at any given moment, just surveilling law-abiding Floridians.”

“This bill will protect the privacy of our citizens while providing law enforcement the tools necessary to respond to emergencies,” he continued.

It also would ban government agencies from using drones for code enforcement.

Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, first agreed to some changes that made it more acceptable to police chiefs and sheriffs.  Representatives from police associations signaled their appreciation for Sen. Negron’s amendments, but stopped short of offering their support for SB 92.

The panel amended the bill to allow for exceptions, such as when a warrant has been signed by judge or if certain emergencies exist, such as fires and hostage situations.

The bill also includes an exception for terrorism-related searches, though the deployment of drones will only be allowed if the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security cites a credible intelligence risk and grants prior authorization.

“Technology has pushed us into a new frontier in privacy, and the principles behind Senator Negron’s bill establish guideposts for how to keep Floridians both safe and free in this new era,” Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida, said in a statement.

In order to move to the Senate floor for a vote, SB 92 must pass through three more committees: Judiciary, Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and Appropriations. A companion bill has been filed in the House by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne.

“Drones are fine to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they shouldn’t be used to monitor the lawful activities of Floridians,” Sen. Negron said. “There’s always a delicate balance between freedom and security, but I believe this bill is necessary to protect citizens so that we don’t err on the side of having our right to privacy and our right to due process violated.”

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