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Drones spotted on Capitol radar with proposal to curb flying robotic monitors

Drone technology has evolved to enabling the remote-controlled aerial devices to provide crisp clear video from hundreds of feet in the air instantly and cheaply. And while this appeals to law enforcement looking to stretch resources, farmers wanting to monitor livestock and the media covering outdoor events it alarms privacy rights advocates worried about flying robots watching your every move.

The devices that can be as small as a hand can be equipped with facial recognition software and programmed to find you; hovering over fences, scaling up high-rise residential windows and cruising parks and neighborhoods.

“I don’t think anyone wants to feel from the moment they walk out their front door until they get home at night that there’s some invisible eye in the sky that’s tracking their every move when they’re going to political protests, visiting their friends, their lovers, their church, their union, their doctors,” said Jay Stanley an ACLU privacy expert.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill and Rep. Larry Metz are stepping into the middle of the debate. Monday the two filed identical bills, SB 766 and HB 649 prohibiting drones to be used to capture images on private property unless consent is given.

“I’ve been watching the evolution of drone technology,” Hukill said. “At what point does my privacy take precedence over the fact that you’re able to purchase and put together technology and fly over my property.”

Under the proposal, a “person is presumed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy on his or her privately owned or occupied real property if he or she is not observable by persons located at ground level in a place where they have a legal right to be, regardless of whether he or she is observable from the air with the use of a drone.”

The Florida Legislature passed a bill in 2013 that limits the government’s ability to use drones for unwarranted surveillance.  The Hukill/Metz proposal amends that measure to extends privacy protections to non-governmental intrusions, treating an unauthorized drone as a trespasser on private property.

At least 20 states have passed laws regarding the use of remote-controlled aerial devices to capture images.  Charlottesville, VA passed in 2013 the country’s first “no-drone” zone” resolution putting in place a two-year moratorium on the use of drones within city limits. Seattle residents blocked a police proposal to use drones for search-and-rescue operations. Protestors referred to the devices as “flying government robots watching their every move.”

Under SB 766, a person whose privacy has been violated could sue for damages. Any evidence law enforcement or a government entity had gathered with an unwarranted drone flight would not be admissible in court.

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