TALLAHASSEE — Unmanned surveillance drones may be preparing to lift off across the nation, but Florida may be spared from such a fate after all.
At least that’s the assessment of state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Port St. Lucie, who successfully brought forth a bill to limit the authority of law enforcement agencies to use drones in the Sunshine State.
“I support the use of drones to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not to monitor the activities of law-abiding Floridians,” Negron said after his bill passed in the Criminal Justice Senate Subcommittee. “This bill will protect the privacy of our citizens while providing law enforcement the tools necessary to respond to emergencies.”
Dubbed the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, the bill restricts law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather evidence against suspects and provides a legal mechanism to sue the government if breaks this promise in any form.
It is the first piece of legislation to move forward for approval in the regular session of the Legislature in March.
“Technology has pushed us into a new frontier in privacy, and the principles behind Senator Negron’s bill establish guideposts for how to keep Floridians both safe and free in this new era,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, who praised the bill.
“The ACLU has serious concerns about unregulated, warrantless use of unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance technology to collect information about individuals,” said Simon. “The pace by which surveillance technology has evolved in recent years has so far outstripped the pace at which laws have adapted to protect individuals’ privacy.
“Strict controls are needed to help guide law enforcement in using surveillance technology. Without those limits, we risk inching further into a society under constant and permanent surveillance,” he said in a statement.
But that doesn’t exactly mean that drones will never see the light of day in Florida.
The bill provides an exception in the “high risk” of a terrorist act, only allowing the deployment of drones if it is specifically authorized the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security because of a credible intelligence risk.
This provision is expected to be discussed at the beginning of the legislative session in March.
Contact Yaël Ossowski, Watchdog.org’s Florida Bureau Chief, at [email protected]