Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he will sign legislation that limits when police can used unmanned aerial “drones,” following unanimous passage of the measure in the House earlier in the day.
The bill (SB 92) prevents law enforcement use of drones unless a judge has issued a warrant, or in cases where there is a “high risk of terrorist attack,” or a case of imminent danger, such as in a missing person case where the person is thought to be in immediate danger.
The Senate passed the bill a week ago and the House approved it with no debate on Wednesday.
“Privacy should be protected and I applaud the House for unanimously passing this bill today,” Scott said in a statement praising the measure’s sponsors, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. “This law will ensure the rights of Florida families are protected from the unwarranted use of drones and other unmanned aircraft. I look forward to signing it when it reaches my desk.”
The bill sailed through the legislative process this year, passing easily in committee stops on both sides of the Capitol. The bill initially was a broader ban, but was narrowed to include the exceptions as it went through the process.
A few law enforcement agencies around the country, including a couple in Florida, have drones though most don’t use them routinely for surveillance. About 80 requests, some from police, others from civilians, to fly drones have been filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Florida is one of the few states, along with Virginia, to put restrictions on their use by police, though some cities, including Seattle and Charlottesville, Va., have banned them.
Backers have said that the technology, because it is easy and cheap to deploy, could be tempting for police to use for simply watching crowds. That’s why limits are needed, they say.
“Can you imagine if King George had sent a drone to hover over the Boston Tea Party to see what the American patriots were up to?” Negron asked during one committee meeting earlier this year. “It’s not what this country was founded on.”
“It’s much like what we did 30 years ago with phone tapping,” Workman said Wednesday.
–David Royse, News Service of Florida