Press Photographers Oppose Jackson Drone Bill

Say Proposed Law Would Prevent Honest News-Gathering

<b>TOOL OR TROUBLE?:</b> A Phantom quadcopter gets ready for liftoff.
Paul Wellman

A national news photography organization is urging California Governor Jerry Brown to veto a bill drafted by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson that would restrict drones from flying over private property without the owner’s permission. The bill, SB 142, would create a no-fly zone of 350 feet above the ground and extend trespassing laws to drone operators, Jackson said, pointing to growing public concern over airborne cameras peaking into backyards and windows.

In a letter sent to Brown on Thursday, Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney for the New-York based National Press Photographer’s Association, said the proposed law goes too far and would unfairly hamstring photographers in their duties. “[J]ournalists could be sued if a UAS they operate were to stray into the ‘airspace overlaying the real property’ of owners while actually gathering newsworthy information of a different nearby location,” he wrote.

The bill, Osterreicher charges, doesn’t include a method to determine the exact altitude of a drone, whether it in fact flew over a property line, or whether a violation was intentional or unintentional. And, in the event of a breaking news event, “it will be daunting if not impossible for journalists to obtain the ‘express consent’ from a wide range of property owners, as the bill requires,” he wrote.

Because it’s difficult to determine the exact height of a drone from the ground, homeowners would likely file erroneous claims, Osterreicher said. “The chilling legal repercussions of this bill will tax an overburdened court system and thwart the federal government’s efforts, in which we are participating, to bring about a sensible regulatory regime for this new technology,” he summed up.

The letter was signed by more than 30 different news organizations, including CNN, The Associated Press, The Los Angles Times, The Sacramento Bee and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, of which The Santa Barbara Independent is a member.

In response to the letter, Jackson issued the following statement: “The purpose of my bill is to prevent drones from invading our private property and privacy without permission. It is directed at bad actors who don’t respect those rights, and fly drones with cameras into people’s backyards as their children are playing or to peer into someone’s windows. Current law strikes a balance between media access and the public’s right to privacy. This has allowed news organizations to do their important job of informing the public without being excessively invasive. This bill would in no way change that. It would simply confirm that what a press photographer or member of the paparazzi cannot do under current law – jump a fence into a person’s backyard without permission and snap photos – they will also not be able to do with a drone. The proliferation of a new technology, however innovative, should not result in the surrender of our rights to enjoy our privacy and private property in peace.”

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