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"Big Brother" bill advances at Capitol

10:10 PM, Feb 6, 2013   |    comments
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TALLAHASSEE, Florida - Legislation restricting the use of police drones passes another test at the state Capitol despite some push back from police.

A Senate committee unanimously passed the bill Wednesday, but rejected an appeal from police to let them use drones for crowd control in public places.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joe Negron lashed out at the idea of creating an exception for crowd control and said he would oppose his own bill if such an amendment were added.

The legislation curtails the use of police drones, but includes exceptions, such as searching for a missing or abducted child, investigating threats of terrorism, responding to emergencies that present a threat to people or property, or following a judge's order.

Sen. Negron says he wants to protect people's privacy rights as technology continues to become more sophisticated. That argument resonates with other lawmakers, including Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

Stargel believes people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, even if they're gathered in a public spot.

"I think there's a certain amount of understood privacy even in a group and I don't think any of us expect that we're going to have government watching over us at all times. So I was supportive of this measure and quite honestly would like to see it expanded a little more to look at personal drones, because technology is getting there now where an individual can buy a drone and fly it over their neighbor's yard. I have real concern with that, as well. We need to make sure we don't trample on our constitutional rights to privacy."

Police argue drones are a more cost effective way of handling crowd control than helicopters and drones are a good tool to help maintain public safety.

But Negron says rapidly emerging technologies can put Big Brother in the sky to monitor Floridians, so it's time to put limits on drones.

Sen. Stargel agrees.

"It is a very low-cost, very powerful, very sophisticated piece of technology, and I have real concerns of our government having the authority to just watch us all the time when we're acting in a peaceful manner, whether it's in a group or by yourself in your yard."

The bill must pass three more committees before it can head to the full Senate for debate.

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