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Garrett Richter seeks to limit drone surveillance by Florida law enforcement

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Sen. Garrett Richter of Naples filed a bill Monday to enact restrictions “prohibiting a person, state agency, or political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned or occupied real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance” without their consent, if “a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.”

Certainly that language will have to withstand some judicial scrutiny, but it is a step forward in a public policy battle the GOP-led legislature has taken up before. Stuart Sen. Joe Negron led the charge in passing a 2013 bill he dubbed the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act,” which made evidence gathered by drones inadmissible in court and allowed citizens who believe they have been spied on to file civil action against law enforcement agencies.

SB 1178, Richter’s bill to restrict drone use, will be joined by a similar initiative filed by Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange and Groveland Rep. Larry Metz. The bills, SB 766 and HB 649 respectively, also seeks to create limits on the employment of drones by state and local police with limited exemptions, though Richter’s bill is more specific.

All three bills allow for exceptions in situations where there is a high risk of a terrorist attack. Richter’s bill also allows that police may use drones if given a signed warrant from a judge or in cases where there is imminent danger to life or serious damage to property” or to prevent a suspect from escaping from authorities. The rules would be administered by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and applied to county and local jurisdictions.

So far Richter’s bill has no House companion. The Metz-Hukill legislation has not yet been taken up in committee, but will first face the Rep. Carlos Trujillo-led House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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