This week California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 142, a bill that would have prohibited all drone flights below 350 feet over private property. We stood with drone makers and users from both the hobbyist and commercial worlds in opposition to the bill, which would have been bad not only for innovation but for state residents at large, and we welcome Brown’s action.
“SB 142 was overly broad and would have chilled the industry; many industries, actually, including agriculture, energy and construction, and it would have negatively affected other law abiding users,” says Nancy Egan, 3DR’s general counsel. “The bill was not tailored to address the privacy concerns cited by its author, and could have created safety problems, as 350 to 400 feet is an extremely narrow banner of sky, and probably the most unsafe place to fly drones.”
Had it passed, the bill would have allowed property owners to sue anyone who flies a drone for any reason over their property — no matter if the trespass were intended; no matter if any images captured were in fact an invasion of privacy; no matter if the drone even had a camera attached in the first place. Further, the bill would have even curbed those same flights for people and organizations who have already obtained explicit section 333 exemptions for those flights from the FAA, a federal agency.
“People want to act lawfully,” says Egan. “But broad laws like this tend to frighten people: They won’t fly, they won’t even buy drones because they don’t want to risk being sued. Commercial operators don’t want to risk liability, so they won’t fly, either, meaning we’re throwing out the good stuff with the bad: These companies wouldn’t have engaged in delivery research or cell tower inspections or aerial surveys or any number of applications where drones can do a lot of good, make the world safer.”
No law will stop bad actors from doing bad things if they want to do them badly enough. But we can help craft reasonable and effectively tailored regulation that will address the public’s very real concerns about safety and privacy. In fact, there’s another drone privacy bill before Gov. Brown — AB 856, the Calderon bill — that basically just expands existing privacy law to explicitly encompass drones. And today well-intentioned pilots and exempted commercial entities can continue to fly responsibly, and 3DR, along with the rest of California’s vibrant UAV industry, can continue to innovate and make this technology more powerful, more accessible and more safe.