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House subcommittee OKs drone bill limiting surveillance

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee passed a bill Monday that would limit the use of drones for surveillance throughout the state.

A bill passed two years ago took a first step in targeting the burgeoning technology by limiting use of drones by law enforcement to gather evidence or intel. It also created a requirement for a warrant.

This bill, HB 649, would build on that foundation by banning any person, state agency or political subdivision from recording any “image of privately owned or occupied real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image in violation of such person’s reasonable expectation of privacy without his or her written consent.”

Under the bill the definition of image is clearly defined to cover all the bases. It includes “thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves; sound waves; odors; or other physical phenomena which captures conditions existing on or about real property or an individual located on that property.”

The bill is intended to protect Floridians’ privacy rights. Only one person spoke against the bill — outspoken lobbyist Brian Pitts. He questioned whether the bill was overstepping and putting people at risk of undue persecution. He said the bill text did not clearly define a need.

Pitts spoke against every other bill debated prior to the drone bill as well.

Bill sponsor Larry Metz, a Yalaha Republican answered Pitts during closing bill debate by arguing the bill is needed to keep people from being able to photograph and record private property and people without their knowledge or consent.

Drones have become widely available on the private market, even at low prices. The innovation and technology store Brookstone sells a drone that can be piloted with an iPhone or iPad.

The bill is seen by privacy advocates as a win on the federal level as well. While it is only applicable in Florida, it would create hurdles for federal agencies conducting surveillance missions in the Sunshine State.

An identical companion bill, SB 766, was filed in the Senate by Dorothy Hukill, a Republican of Port Orange. That bill has passed the Community Affairs Committee and is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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