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State Lawmakers Debate New Measures To Keep Unmanned Drone Program In Check

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(credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

(credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com) — By the end of the decade, the FAA estimates there will be as many as 10,000 unmanned drones flying over the United States.

Lawmakers in California are struggling to figure out how to regulate the drones and make sure they don’t end up invading the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

Drones have been used for years in the war against terror.

But Andrea Fujii reports for KCAL9 that they can also be used by local police.

Perhaps more chilling, there are no laws that keep unmanned drones from being used by hobbyists. They can record and live stream video all the while they are flying above.

Senator Alex Padilla, (D-San Fernando Valley), hopes to change all that. “Technology has become a lot more sophisticated and a lot more inexpensive and it doesn’t take a huge imagination to think what somebody might be able to do with a drone,” he said.

Padilla adds, “I’f we’re sunbathing in our own backyard or other places where we have a reasonable expectation of privacy those need to be protected.”

The implications in star-heavy Los Angeles — paparazzi at 10,000 feet — is probably chilling to anyone on the celebrity A-List.

Padilla’s Senate Bill 15 has already cleared the first committee hearing.

The law would penalize private drone operators who violate someone’s privacy. The bill also seeks to prohibit drones being weaponized by private citizens.

Padilla says, “We don’t need to look much further than the Boston Marathon to just imagine what somebody with evil intentions can do with this drone technology.”

State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Ventura County) introduced Bill 1327 — it puts similar restrictions on drones. It also cleared a committee meeting earlier this week.

“These things are now very cheap, inexpensive —  compared to a manned aircraft or helicopter. They’re capable of loitering over areas for long periods of time,” Gorell said.

The Seattle Police Department was about to launch a series of drones they obtained through a federal grant. They abandoned the project at the 11th hour due to privacy concerns.

The LAPD has reportedly tested drones but have not yet added them to its arsenal.

But the FAA reports several agencies — and universities — in Northern California have put in their applications for grants including UC Davic and UC Merced.

Gorell believe it’s important to get a handle on the situation before it goes unchecked. “As we move forward in the f uture it may be appropriate to dial back the restrictions but we need to start from a place of rigidity in terms of the basic guidelines for the use of drones.”

One thing Democrats and Republicans lawmakers around the state seem to agree on — how to restrict California airspace. The issue, for now, is crossing party lines and affiliations. “It’s not democrat or republican, it’s not an urban or a rural issue, most people really get that,” Padilla says.

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