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New Federal Regulations of Commercial Drones and a New California Bill to Address Privacy Concerns

  |   Friday, February 27, 2015

It is just a few months into 2015, and we have already seen federal efforts to regulate the commercial use of unmanned aircraft—aka drones— and proposed California legislation that would create liability for the invasion of privacy by both commercial and personal use of drones. Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration released long-awaited regulations addressing the use of drones. The regulations apply only to non-recreational drones under 55 pounds and require drone pilots to obtain special pilot certificates, fly only during the day, and keep drones they pilot in their line of sight. The regulations also require commercial drones to fly at less than 100 mph and no higher than 500 feet.

In California, there was a bill introduced last month in the state Senate addressing the potential invasion of privacy by drones. The bill, SB-142, proposed by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would create a claim for relief for people who experience an invasion of privacy through use of drones. The bill would create liability if a person, using a drone, knowingly enters the airspace of another without permission, or otherwise commits a trespass in order to capture any image or recording of the plaintiff engaging in a private activity, if the invasion is offensive to a reasonable person. Senator Jackson’s office has commented that the bill will “clarify that long-established definitions of private property and trespassing apply also to drones.”

As background, last year the California legislature passed AB 1327, which regulated drones, but Governor Brown vetoed the Bill. The vetoed bill would have generally prohibited public agencies from using unmanned aircraft systems, with certain exceptions.

Karl Kronenberger is partner in the law firm of Kronenberger Rosenfeld, LLP in San Francisco, and he focusses exclusively on Internet and tech-related matters.

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