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Florida Senate Panel OKs Bill Limiting Police Use of UAVs

Proposed legislation seeks to prevent unwarranted surveillance of citizens

A Florida Senate committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would impose severe limits on police use of unmanned aerial vehicles thereby preventing unwarranted surveillance of citizens.

The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice first amended the proposed Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act (SB 92) before approving the bill. The amendments include allowing police use of UAVs when a judge signs a warrant approving the use of a drone and for certain emergencies such as fires and hostage situations and for terrorism-related searches.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R, introduced the bill which, he says, would “place common sense guidelines” on the use of UAVs in Florida. “I support the use of drones to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not to monitor the activities of law abiding Floridians,” he adds.

Because of the prolific and effective use of UAVs to conduct surveillance in Afghanistan and Iraq, there has been increased interest in domestic use of drones by government and law enforcement agencies, according to Negron. SB 92 sets rules to prohibit their use without a warrant while providing exemptions for high-risk situations where swift action is required.

“This bill will protect the privacy of our citizens while providing law enforcement the tools necessary to respond to emergencies,” Negron says.

While no further action has been taken on SB 92, Rep. Ritch Workman, R, a member of Florida’s House of Representatives has introduced in the House a bill (H 0119) identical to SB 92.

In addition, Florida is at least the second state legislature working on a bill to limit police use of UAVs. North Dakota lawmakers are drafting such a bill, and state legislators in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan and Indiana have expressed concern about police use of UAVs.