That depends on how much you treasure your privacy and how well you trust your government.
AB 1327 Unmanned Aircraft Systems was written to restrict the use of drones in California. According to a press release issued August 27, 2014, by the office of Assembly Member Jeff Gorell, one of three California Assembly members to introduce the bill…
“Over the next decade drone technology will become much more common in California’s airspace. There are tremendous benefits that can be realized from these tools, but only if we first pass the legislation that will protect our civil and privacy rights from abuses of the technology. As the tech capitol of the nation, California should also lead in protecting our privacy from intrusions by new technology.”
This sounds good, but how much privacy protection will the bill actually afford? Apart from the utilization of drones by law enforcement, which some would call a legitimate use (but which may also give rise to legitimate concerns about misuse), AB 1327 states, “A public agency other than a law enforcement agency may use an unmanned aircraft system…to achieve the core mission of the agency…”
There is no language in the bill limiting the breadth and scope (mission) of a public agency as to its use of the images and data gathered through the use of drones. While it’s true that AB 1327 would require law enforcement and other agencies intending to employ drones to obtain a warrant based on probable cause, there are plenty of exceptions. And setting aside for the moment one’s respect for the integrity of government bureaucracies, one might ask how difficult is it for one government agency (of any kind) to convince another arm of government (the courts) that the standard for probable cause has been met?
Furthermore, “private” entities may contract with public agencies for the use of drones. To hypothesize, an example might be a company such as Amazon.com or Google seeking a contract or permission from the government to utilize drone technology in their product delivery services. While this may be a positive use of the new technology (for the consumer, business, economy, etc.), the legislation also allows public agencies to distribute data collected by drones to private entities, a practice that is bound to raise privacy concerns:
“Images, footage, or data obtained by a public agency through the use of an unmanned aircraft system may be disseminated to a private entity if both of the following conditions are satisfied
(i) The collecting public agency is not a law enforcement agency.
(ii) The images, footage, or data are related to the core function of the collecting public agency.”
Not only is this language vague, but it begs the question, who decides whether the data collected belongs in the private entity’s hands?
Then there’s the problem with the length of time the data, images and footage may be retained by the collecting entity. SB 1327 allows for retention for up to one year, with exceptions. Those exceptions will be troublesome to many civil libertarians and others concerned with government overreach and property rights: these include instances where the data is to be used for “environmental, public works, or land use management or planning by the public agency.”
Indeed, this seems like a mighty low bar. With a little massaging, what data couldn’t a government agency justify as necessary for one of these broad uses.
Finally, there’s the issue of notification to the public that their personal images and data may be subject to capture by drones. Judge for yourself whether this constitutes adequate notice:
“A public agency… shall first provide reasonable notice to the public. Reasonable notice shall, at a minimum, consist of a one-time announcement regarding the agency’s intent to deploy unmanned aircraft system technology and a description of the technology’s capabilities.”
What type of one-time announcement—an email, newspaper blurb, telephone/robo-call, street sign? There are no specifics in the text of the bill as to what might constitute “reasonable notice.”
What we have here in SB 1327 is feel-good legislation; that is all. That would explain why the California Legislature approved it overwhelmingly last week. There’s nothing controversial about the bill because it does virtually nothing to keep champions of government largesse, on either side of the political aisle, from limiting surveillance of their constituents.
If Governor Brown signs this piece of legislation into law, which he has until September 30th to do, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the one provision that you may need to reestablish your rights and receive restitution:
“A person who is subject to surveillance without consent may seek and obtain an injunction prohibiting the use of images, footage, or data related to the person that was obtained through the surveillance. The person shall also be awarded liquidated damages of five thousand dollars ($5,000) for each day of surveillance and any actual damages in excess of that amount.”
Good luck wending your way through the courts on that one.