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Senate committee passes bill limiting drone surveillance

On Monday, a Senate committee approved the bill regulating drones used to take photos without consent.

If passed, violations would carry a $5,000 fine. Distribution of the picture would cost the drone operator $10,000.

Even though the Federal Aviation Administration expects to issue guidelines governing drones, officially known as unmanned aerial vehicles, Florida is among more than a dozen other states not waiting on federal regulations.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed SB 1178, to protect Floridians from those swarming bug-size robots equipped with cameras that can scale high-rise condominiums and backyard privacy fences to record people without their consent.

The bill, filed by Naples Republican Sen. Garrett Richter, would legalize 18 commercial uses for drones, including scholarly research, mapping purposes, military operations, real estate marketing, and oil pipeline safety.

Analysts are anxiously waiting for the drone market to take off.

The Consumer Electronics Association predicts sales of unmanned aerial vehicles will increase from 250,000 units in 2014 to almost 1 million in 2018.

Although drones not used for recreational purposes require a FAA certificate, a federal judge struck down a fine against a commercial drone user last year. The ruling opened a drone market for private investigators.

In March, the New York Post reported that many PIs working divorce cases use drones to get the money shot on cheating spouses.

Under the proposal, Florida would allow drone photography for scholarly research, military operations, mapping, in public places at the height of no more than 8 feet, port security and fire suppression.

Law enforcement reporting requirements

Under the bill, the FDLE would be required to compile information and report to the governor, Senate president, and House speaker on an annual basis:

  • The number of times drones are used;
  • The number of investigations aided by the drone;
  • The number of times a drone was used not for a criminal investigation;
  • Type of information collected, and;
  • The total cost of buying, using and maintaining each drone.

The FDLE will be required to adopt guidelines for drone use.

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