Okay, not literally, but I get a kick out of when people misuse the word. Anyway, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this week legislation which will, in essence, keep law enforcement drones grounded by way of severe restrictions.
Effective 6/1/2013, the Florida Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using an unmanned aerial vehicle (defined as a drone in the act) to gather evidence or other information, or from using evidence obtained or collected in violation of the act in any state court of law.
A drone is defined as a powered, aerial vehicle that:
1. Does not carry a human operator;
2. Uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift;
3. Can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely;
4. Can be expendable or recoverable, and;
5. Can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.
Exceptions to the FFUSA drone prohibition would be:
“(a) To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicated that there is a risk.
“(b) If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing the use of a drone.
“(c) If the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence, or to achieve purposes including, but not limited to, facilitating the search for a missing person.”
I think this act is a knee-jerk reaction to recent national fears about UAV’s. Manned police aircraft still routinely patrol the skies, observing what is in public view, where there is no Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Heck, with permission of the property owner I can go up on a roof top and take pictures of anything I see down below. Legally.
In the end, this will effectively and administratively limit law enforcement’s ability to use UAV’s for search/rescue/recovery, intelligence gathering at incident scenes, monitoring large events, and dozens of other useful activities that can already be done legally, just with much more expensive aircraft and flight crews. From a public safety perspective, I believe this is a setback.