TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Could drones soon be patrolling the skies over the Sunshine State? A bill that would allow law enforcement to use the unmanned aircraft under narrow guidelines is moving quickly through the Florida House on Thursday.
The one hold up remains in the definition of when an unmanned aircraft could be used, with talks continuing over the correct wording that would allow law enforcement to set drones aloft when chasing bad guys or responding to a crisis situation, such as a wildfire – but not allowing them to hover over neighborhoods in search of potential crime.
However, an assurance by the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, that the wording difference would be cleaned up before the bill makes its next stop – before the House Judiciary Committee – was enough to garner unanimous support for the legislation from the House Local and Federal Affairs Committee.
The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee has also unanimously backed the bill, while the Senate version (SB 92) has also survived two committee appearances without any objections.
“We have a presumed right to privacy in this country,” said Workman, who is working on the language with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the ACLU, and the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “I never want to come to the fiscal discussion that’s it’s cheaper to put cameras on drones than it is to hire another police officer. … Drones, because of the cost effectiveness, endanger that right.”
The bill (HB 119) currently prohibits a law enforcement agency from using a drone to collect evidence or other information unless the agency: obtains a search warrant; is called on by U.S. Homeland Security to counter a high risk of a terrorist threat; or has reasonable suspicion that under particular circumstances, swift action is necessary to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence.
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