Another State Makes Drone Laws

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed a new bill (SB 766) into law that takes “a second step against mass surveillance”, expanding current limitations on the use of drones in the Sunshine State that will have a practical impact on “the federal surveillance state.”  This new action adds to SB 92 from about this time last year. Really?

The description of the new Florida law reads: “Prohibiting a person, a state agency, or a political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance without his or her written consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists; authorizing the use of a drone by a person or entity engaged in a business or profession licensed by the state in certain circumstances, etc.” But then it goes on to list a bunch of exceptions.


The new bill addresses recording video or taking pictures of people or private property, such that the “damaged parties” can sue the drone operator  …but they have to prove “financial damages”. There are no criminal penalties. What “damages”? A picture may be worth a thousand words but what’s that picture worth in court? Who are they suing? Magnum, P.I. or Tommy Tourist?

This latest effort is the work of Senator Dorothy Hukill (R). It passed the Florida house with no objections. In the senate, two NO votes came from Senator Rob Bradley and Garrett Richter.  Garrett Richter (R) spoke at the Orlando AUVSI Unmanned conference we recorded on video.  It’s worth watching to see his reasoned position and why he might have objected to the newest law.

Curiously, this new Florida law is being called called a “second step against mass surveillance” and “the federal surveillance state” (referring to SB92 as the “first step”)

Who or what are they responding to?  The 15 year old “Patriot Act” with the now infamous Section 215 that was exposed by Edward Snowden was created by a whole bunch of legislators with (R) after their names.  No problem with “mass surveillance” there, right? Those buzzy drones over my swimming pool are the REAL danger!

A comment on LegiScan put it this way:

“…there are so many other ways in which we are already under this ‘surveillance’, such as CCTV, cell phone tapping, satellite mapping, etc. …”

The Florida laws do little more than muddy the waters, or possibly spawn new lawyer ads on TV:

“Have you been spied on by drones? Call the number on your screen for a free consultation”

Jon Rupprecht, a real drone law attorney, pilot, flight instructor, drone owner and author of “Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them.” ( told me the new law seems to “make real estate photography more ‘high risk’ in my view.”

But Florida is certainly not alone. A number of states are clamoring to get into the act.

Florida’s law is similar to one in Oregon that also allows property owners to tie up the courts. There the property owner can seek injunctive relief, “treble damages for any injury to the person or the property,” and attorney fees if the amount of damages is under $10,000.

Again, define the “damages”?

One curious event in Texas may explain some of it. Perhaps this is a clue to what is meant by “financial damages”? Apparently the Smithfield pig farm in Texas felt some “financial damages” from being caught polluting a river (video).

A “drone pilot in Texas flying a simple rig with a point-and-shoot camera attached for fun noticed something strange in a creek. There was an awful lot of dark red in the water. He notified the county, and a Department of Health and Human Services investigation showed that the substance discoloring the water was blood. Raw pig blood from a nearby (Smithfield) meatpacking plant.” The farm had actually installed a pipe to drain into the river.

Very illegal, right? Now taking pictures of a crime to expose a crime… is a crime?

How did Texas lawmakers respond? Texas law that took effect Sept. 1 tightened rules, not on polluters but on taking such photographs, in an effort to “better protect private property from drone surveillance.” That’s right. Republican Lance Gooden authored the law over concerns that “ordinary Texans could use drones to spy on private property, as well as in response to fears that animal rights groups or environmentalists could keep tabs on livestock ranches or oil pipelines. ”  We certainly can’t have “ordinary citizens” finding evidence of illegal activities like pipeline leaks or pig blood being dumped in rivers.

But not ALL”illegal activity”. The Texas law all but encourages drones to capture images of people on “public real property” within 25 miles of the Mexican border with the consent of the property owner. Uh, huh. Of course.

Tennessee amended its criminal trespass law to make it a crime for a drone to fly over private property. Actually that’s a simpler, more logical approach than making new, mostly redundant statutes.

The industry group, AUVSI, has been successful in heading off some of the more restrcgtive state and local legislation.

State by state drone laws:

Florida’s SB 92 (last year)  Summary

Florida’s SB 766 Text this year (Passed on May 15 2015)