Put drones under same privacy laws as manned aircraft

Vendors display an assortment of drones at the Los Angeles County Air Show last month in Lancaster.
Vendors display an assortment of drones at the Los Angeles County Air Show last month in Lancaster. The Associated Press

When James Madison introduced the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, protecting Americans from unwarranted search and seizure, he most certainly never imagined the world we live in today.

In 1789, hot air balloons were on the cutting edge of technology. Thoughts of air travel, satellites and space exploration would have been inconceivable. Yet through it all, America has maintained its adherence to the Constitution and its protections for individuals laid out 2 1/4 centuries ago.

Today, technology is advancing exponentially. Public policy and new laws often lag far behind, simply trying to keep pace with constant technological advancements.

A case in point is the increasing development of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. In recent years, their capability has been expanded and refined to serve a wide variety of purposes, including military operations, search-and-rescue missions, fighting fires and surveying land. The possibilities for lifesaving use are endless.

As with previous new technology, however, expanded use of drones has been met with apprehension by the public over encroachments on privacy. These concerns are valid and must not be taken lightly. It is imperative that we balance these concerns with technological innovation that can save lives.

That is why we have introduced Senate Bill 262. This bipartisan measure simply adopts current privacy laws surrounding manned vehicles, such as airplanes and helicopters, and applies them to unmanned drones.

As the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to open the skies to regulated public and private use of drones, it is essential the Legislature provide clear guidelines to law enforcement. Police use of drones deserves neither more strict, nor more lenient, scrutiny with regard to Fourth Amendment protections than does a manned aircraft, satellite or any land-based camera. Current law restricts unwarranted spying in a manned vehicle, and logically the same must apply to drones. At the same time, we should not apply arbitrary, restrictive measures upon law-enforcement use of drones.

It is our sworn duty to uphold and protect the Constitution. This unwavering commitment will never change as we encourage innovation that will protect Californians for generations to come.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, represents the 38th Senate District. Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Manteca, represents the 5th Senate District.