Drones around San Diego

I’m out in San Diego working hard but also enjoying their version of “winter” (highs in the upper 60’s – this is not a complaint by any stretch of the imagination).  I’m hoping to get out to Torrey Pines this weekend, so I’ve included a drone video of this beautiful park.  It made me think that I should write about UAS in San Diego.

I’ll start with invasion of privacy, since that is hot news in the press. California has some of the toughest invasion of privacy laws in the United States. In the most basic sense, you can’t trespass to get a picture of someone.  This predates UAS, since the state has attempted to limit paparazzi for decades, but now drones allow you to take pictures without physically trespassing.  A well-known case in the early 90’s illustrates the limits of the law. Barbara Streisand sued a company making a photographic survey of the California coastline, including her oceanside mansion, but lost because there was nothing offensive or invasive about the distant photograph.  This was a manned flight, but now Californians, not just movie stars, are worried about drones invading their privacy.

In response, a bill was passed last year to amend California’s invasion of privacy law.  It is now illegal to make a recording with a device (i.e.: a drone) that is “offensive to a reasonable person,” of a person “engaging in a personal or familial activity under circumstances in which the plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” when the “image, sound recording, or other physical impression could not have been achieved without a trespass unless the device was used.”  (Cal. Civil Code §1708.8(b)).  In layman’s terms, if you can’t get the picture without using a drone, you are violating the law – even if you are not actually trespassing.  One who violates this provision is liable for damages to the aggrieved party and a civil fine of between $5,000 and $50,000!

California also has other bills pending.  One that would have restricted the ability of law enforcement to use UAS was vetoed by the governor last year .  Two similar bills have been introduced this year and are under consideration.  Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, who introduced the legislation that was vetoed, makes a good point.  It is important to pass balanced UAS legislation before more dramatic action, such as a full ban, occurs.

San Diego County has a particular interest in UAS.  The area is a hotbed of defense contracting, which includes General Atomics and Northrop Grumman, makers of the Predator/Reaper and Global Hawk, respectively.  The Union-Tribune article also cites a National University System Institute for Policy Research (based in San Diego) study from 2011 that found the UAS industry added $1.3 billion and more than 7,000 jobs to the county’s economy.

I wrote previously about AeroVironment, which had been granted permission by the FAA to use its Puma UAS to survey BP assets in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  The authorization take the form of a restricted type certificate, a broader but more difficult to obtain authorization than the 333 exemptions.  AeroVironment is based in Southern California and can boast that the first over Prudhoe Bay flight occurred on Sunday January 18th!

It is great to see an area’s economy benefitting from UAS and I hope San Diego can continue to develop this technology.

(Note: the featured image on the home page, also found below, is of Del Mar, CA from a Drone.  It is from a drone photo website http://www.dronestagr.am.)

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