Given the fact that unmanned drones provide law enforcement agencies with unprecedented spying capabilities, unimaginable by the authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, civil libertarians across America have voiced concerns that these tools could be used in violation of the basic privacy protections enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. This sentiment among California’s electorate led to the rise of AB1327, Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell’s state-level bill to limit law enforcement officers’ ability to spy on citizens using unmanned drones. AB1327 soared through the California State Legislature, passing the General Assembly by a 68 to 4 vote and the Senate with 26 for and 8 against. According to The Wall Street Journal, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the anti-spying bill on Sunday, citing concerns that it would place excessive limits on police agencies.
AB1327 would have required cops to acquire a warrant before conducting surveillance with a drone. It also would have required law enforcement agencies to publicly announce the purchase and deployment of drones. Under the bill, law enforcement agents would be prohibited from publicizing images and video taken by a drone and would be required to delete that type of content within one year of capturing it. The bill would have also banned state-level government agencies “from equipping or arming an unmanned aircraft system with a weapon or other device that may be carried by or launched from an unmanned aircraft system and that is intended to cause bodily injury or death, or damage to, or the destruction of, real or personal property.”
Though Governor Jerry Brown voiced concerns that law enforcement agencies would have their hands tied by the bill, AB1327 contains broad exceptions to the warrant requirement, allowing for warrantless drone use in scenarios such as environmental disasters, search-and-rescue operations, fires, hostage crises, hot pursuits, and other emergency situations. In Brown’s statement announcing his veto of the legislation, he said, “There are undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate. The bill’s exceptions, however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the Fourth Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California Constitution.”
Tenth Amendment Center communications director Mike Maharrey slammed Governor Brown’s veto of the legislation, saying, “This is an absurd veto and tells me that Gov. Brown doesn’t give a damn about privacy… The exceptions to the warrant requirement included in the bill were more than adequate. Jerry makes it sound like he took some kind of oath forbidding him to protect privacy too much. I mean really? Does he really think a law can’t go beyond what the courts have said? Civil libertarians in California should take note.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell expressed his disappointment that the bill was vetoed, saying that the legislation would have “provided common-sense protection to protect privacy rights and civil liberties.”