Jackson Bill to Prohibit Drones from Invading Our Privacy and Private Property Advances

July 14, 2015

SACRAMENTO – A bill by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to prohibit drones from trespassing on private property without the owner’s permission and invading Californians’ privacy passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee today on a bipartisan vote.

California law already prohibits someone from entering someone’s private property – their home or backyard, for example – without their permission, and prohibits them from photographing or recording conversations. Senate Bill 142 clarifies that the rules pertaining to trespassing also apply to entry by remotely operated aerial vehicles known as drones on private property. The bill would create a drone ‘no-fly zone’ of 350 feet above private property.

“Drones have a lot of helpful and extremely innovative uses. But invading our privacy and property without permission shouldn’t be among them. When we’re in our backyards, with our families, we have an expectation that we have a right to privacy, “ said Jackson. “Drones have upended all those expectations, and it’s important that we set reasonable boundaries so that our privacy and security remain intact. This bill would extend our long-established definitions of trespassing and privacy, and bring them into the 21st century, by applying them also to drones.”

SB 142 would not impact of the use of drones in public spaces – such as roads, beaches, schools, public utility easements, and other spaces where drone use is not restricted -- nor in the space approximately 350 feet or more above ground, which is subject to federal regulation.

Owners would also be free to use drones on their own property, or on property in which they had been given permission by the owners to use drones. Personally ordered packages could still be delivered to one’s front door by drone, should that one day become a viable option.

The bill follows numerous public incidents with drones. Drones have recently been found impeding fire-fighting efforts. In the past few weeks, a woman in Washington state was knocked unconscious by a drone falling out of the sky. Jackson’s bill was introduced days after a drone was flown onto the White House lawn. Following the incident, President Obama called for more regulation of drone use.  

Often, drones are equipped with video cameras and sound-recording equipment.  As they become more widespread, the potential for colliding with established privacy rights increases.

 “This bill establishes clear rules so that we can prevent problems from occurring,” said Jackson. “Drones are an emerging and exciting technology. But because they can easily travel over fences and other structures, we need to take extra precautions to ensure they don’t compromise our privacy or security and blur long-standing boundaries between public and private space.”

Oregon currently has a law in place, passed in 2013, prohibiting the flying of drones over private property without permission up to 400 feet.

The bill now heads to the Assembly floor.

Jackson is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees legislation on privacy issues. She represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.