Florida bills would limit searches and seizures by drones

A bill (HB 649) has been introduced by Rep. Larry Metz (R-Groveland), that seeks to further limit searches and seizures by drones in Florida. Sen. Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) introduced a companion bill (SB 766) in the state Senate.

Below is the text of the original filed versions. Coding: Words stricken are deletions; words underlined are additions to current limitations under Florida law (934.50).

A bill to be entitled

An act relating to surveillance by a drone; amending s. 934.50, F.S.; defining terms; prohibiting a person, state agency, or political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned or occupied real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance without his or her written consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists; specifying when a reasonable expectation of privacy may be presumed; providing that the owner, tenant, or occupant may initiate a civil action for compensatory damages or seek injunctive relief against a violator; providing for the recovery of attorney fees and punitive damages; specifying that remedies provided by the act are cumulative to other existing remedies; providing  an effective date.

Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:

Section 1. Section 934.50, Florida Statutes, is amended to read:

934.50 Searches and seizure using a drone.—

(1) SHORT TITLE. — This act may be cited as the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.”

(2) DEFINITIONS — As used in this act, the term:

(a) “Drone” means a powered, aerial vehicle that:

  1. Does not carry a human operator;
  2. Uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift;
  3. Can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely;
  4. Can be expendable or recoverable; and
  5. Can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.

(b) “Image” means a record of thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves; sound waves; odors; or other physical phenomena which captures conditions existing on or about real property or an individual located on that property.  

(c) “Imaging device” means a mechanical, digital, or electronic viewing device; still camera; camcorder; motion picture camera; or any other instrument, equipment, or format capable of recording, storing, or transmitting an image.

(d)(b) “Law enforcement agency” means a lawfully established state or local public agency that is responsible for the prevention and detection of crime, local government code enforcement, and the enforcement of penal, traffic, regulatory, game, or controlled substance laws.

3 PROHIBITED USE OF DRONES

(a) A law enforcement agency may not use a drone to gather evidence or other information.

(b) A person, a state agency, or a political subdivision as defined in s. 11.45 may not use a drone equipped with an imaging device to record an image of privately owned or occupied real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image in violation of such person’s reasonable expectation of privacy without his or her written consent. For purposes of this section, a person is presumed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy on his or her privately owned or occupied real property if he or she is not observable by persons located at ground level in a place where they have a legal right to be, regardless of whether he or she is observable from the air with the use of a drone.

(4) EXCEPTIONS.—This act does not prohibit the use of a drone:

(a) To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk.

(b) If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing the use of a drone.

(c) If the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence, or to achieve purposes including, but not limited to, facilitating the search for a missing person.

(5) REMEDIES FOR VIOLATION.—

(a) An aggrieved party may initiate a civil action against a law enforcement agency to obtain all appropriate relief in order to prevent or remedy a violation of this act.

(b) The owner, tenant, or occupant of privately owned or occupied real property may initiate a civil action for compensatory damages for violations of this section and may seek injunctive relief to prevent future violations of this section against a person, state agency, or political subdivision that violates paragraph (3)(b). In such action, the prevailing party is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees from the nonprevailing party based on the actual and reasonable time expended by his or her attorney billed at an appropriate hourly rate and, in cases in which the payment of such a fee is contingent on the outcome, without a multiplier, unless the action is tried to verdict, in which case a multiplier of up to twice the actual value of the time expended may be awarded in the discretion of the trial court.  

(c) Punitive damages under this section may be sought against a person subject to other requirements and limitations of law, including, but not limited to, part II of chapter 768 and case law.

(d) The remedies provided by this section are cumulative to other existing remedies.

(6) PROHIBITION ON USE OF EVIDENCE.—Evidence obtained or collected in violation of this act is not admissible as evidence in a criminal prosecution in any court of law in this state.

Section 2. This act shall take effect July 1, 2015.

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