Costly overreach hurts water, agriculture and tech industries
The immense commercial applications for small, unmanned aerial vehicles are just starting to be realized. Senate Bill 142, authored by state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would dampen investment in these technologies, hindering the vast potential benefits for California’s economy. California is home to some of the most promising technology companies in the world. There is a better, more targeted solution than this legislative overreach.
UAVs are already providing consumers and the media cost-effective and real-time access to information about traffic, storms and other events.
The agricultural industry is using UAVs to improve efficiency by observing and measuring crops while conserving resources and avoiding the use of heavy equipment. In fact, an American Farm Bureau report indicates that farmers can see a $12 per acre return on investment through drone use in crop scouting. In a state where water is of the utmost importance, these drones allow farmers to monitor irrigation lines for leaks and other issues, reducing water consumption. As we know, every gallon counts.
With UAVs, retailers like Amazon and Google have the potential to provide doorstep service in hours, rather than days. Patients could have lifesaving medical supplies delivered in minutes. With this bill, California may never see these opportunities.
Legislation aimed at protecting consumer privacy may be well-intentioned, but SB142 does more to damage this industry than to truly protect consumer privacy, to the detriment of California consumers.
Unfortunately, the legislation does not prevent operators who intend to invade privacy, or prohibit photography or video. It is not tied to conduct such as aggravating noise, repeated flyovers or harassment of people or animals. In fact, the only standard in the legislation is the altitude at which the UAV flies. Delivery drones with no ability to capture images would even be prohibited despite the tremendous value they provide.
SB142 creates an arbitrary altitude limit for UAVs that has no basis in privacy law or property rights and has no impact other than to limit the ability of these new technologies to improve our lives. It is also inconsistent with Federal Aviation Administration limits. Setting such a limit not only has no foundation in concern for privacy, but it also effectively limits the flight corridor for these UAVs so dramatically that many of the uses that stand to benefit consumers will be eliminated or curtailed.
True privacy protections are in everyone’s interest and California has been a leader in developing strong privacy protections for consumers. There is a way to balance consumer privacy and encourage technological improvements to our daily lives, but SB142 unfortunately fails to strike that balance. This issue should go back to the Legislature for a more thoughtful and targeted approach.
Words: Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition.