Miami Legal Tips Blog

Patrolling from a Drone Near You

14254518810rrs8It’s one thing to contemplate what the future may look like when various camera-equipped drones, both commercial and those for individual use, start peeking in on our lives, however intentionally. Just a few days ago, as a matter of fact, a friend noted that a drone appeared out of nowhere over her sizeable backyard out West. And then it flew away, before the friend could attempt to identify where it came from or who owned it. Had she been spied on? Or did the drone just drift off course?

It’s quite another thing to wonder about the effect of drones on police work.

That appears to be at least one concern of Sen. Garret Richter of Naples, who reportedly filed a bill in the Florida legislature to establish restrictions “prohibiting a person, state agency, or political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned or occupied real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance” without their consent, if “a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.”

Should the bill pass, the quoted language will surely be tested in court. However, it’s not the first time the legislature has taken up the issue. A 2013 bill – nicknamed the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” – rendered evidence collected by drone inadmissible in court. The bill also permitted citizens who thought they had been spied upon to file civil action against law enforcement groups.

The latest bill, SB1178, will be joined by similar ones filed by a pair of bills filed by Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange and Rep. Larry Metz of Groveland. The latter two bills will attempt to create limits on the use of drones by local and state police, though Richter’s bill appears the most specific of the three.

All of the bills allow for exceptions when there is a substantial risk of a terrorist attack. And Richter’s proposal permits drone use by police if they have obtained a signed warrant from a judge or if there is imminent risk to life or serious damage property. Or to prevent a suspect from eluding authorities.

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