New bill could give law enforcement more drone use

By Ashley Harding - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As drones soar in popularity, a Jacksonville lawmaker wants to expand their use for law enforcement.

On Tuesday, the House State Affairs Committee will take up a bill (HB 75), filed by Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville that would expand the circumstances in which law enforcement agencies can use aerial drones.

We’ve all seen police helicopters hovering over crime scenes, or searching for suspects. Yarborough believes drones would take police work to new heights. 

"This is an unmanned aircraft. So you don't have a person in it, and you can get it up faster and more efficiently," Yarborough said.

However when it comes to drones, there are privacy and legal concerns.

Florida banned law enforcement agencies from using drones for surveillance several years ago. That ban would remain in place under HB 75, but it would give police a new tool to handle traffic management, crowd control, evidence collection and survey damage after natural disasters.

But some have questioned if this would open the door for violation.

Yarborough said if a drone collected evidence in a way that violated Florida law, it wouldn't be allowed in court. He adds that your right to a reasonable expectation of privacy would be protected.

"Whether that be your backyard or inside your home or somewhere like that, a drone could not legally come up with a camera on it or come up and do surveillance on you in the same way somebody standing outside your fence or window with a camera or binoculars could do," Yarborough explained. "Voyeurism is illegal, whether you do it with a drone or a camera or binoculars. This is not a license to do anything that is currently illegal. It is only to give another tool to law enforcement for public safety."

The Florida Senate has also filed a bill relating to drones.

Yarborough said he has received support from several police agencies including the Florida Sheriff's Association, FDLE and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. 

Tuesday’s discussion will begin at 3 p.m. at Morris Hall in the House Office Building.

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