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Legislators Ask, Is California Law Ready for Drones?

Two days after the FAA released its proposed rule to regulate commercial drone use in the United States, the California Senate Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing to examine the potential benefits and risks associated with the expansion of drone technology. The hearing was entitled, “Drones: Is California Law Ready? The Potential, the Perils, and the Impact to Our Privacy Rights.”

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman, suggested the expansion of drone technology presents difficult public policy questions including, “how to welcome these new technologies into our lives without surrendering our right to privacy?” Senator Jackson inquired into existing state-level regulation of commercial drone use across the nation, how unauthorized drones might impact fire-fighting efforts, and whether the leaders in drone technology innovation are considering issues of safety and privacy. Senator Jackson suggested that, in considering the regulation of drone use, critical questions might be, where are drones benefiting society and where are they not? Additionally, Senator Jackson stated that she believes the express right to privacy in the California Constitution gives California the authority to go beyond any steps taken by the federal government to protect privacy rights as implicated by expanding drone use.

Senator Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) submitted that, in regulating drone use, care should be taken in achieving the right balance in order to ensure that technology is not being unreasonably restricted. The Senator drew a comparison between emerging drone technologies and street mapping, as both encountered a tension between privacy concerns and commercial benefits. Senator Anderson asked the witness from the Motion Picture Association about the cost, quality, and safety of using manned versus unmanned aerial vehicles in the film industry. Lastly, the Senator asked about the use of drones in quantifying the effects of global warming and in the exploration of active volcanoes. During his time, Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) asked whether drones could be used for dropping fire retardant and whether drones are being used to apply pesticides.

The direction of legislators’ comments and questions highlights the potential risks and benefits of drone use in California and emphasizes the great uncertainty that exists in the landscape of drone regulation today. Watch the full Senate Judiciary Committee hearing here.