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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 Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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