Paparazzi Lose, Hobbyists Win on Drones

Authored by Scott Hall; originally published in the Daily Journal, October 15, 2015

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 856, which amends Civil Code Section 1708.8 to define a “physical invasion of privacy” as including knowingly entering “into the airspace above the land” of another person without permission in order to capture images, sounds, or other physical impressions of private activity. The law targets the increasingly aggressive efforts of paparazzi and other “peeping toms” in using drones to capture images of private conduct.

AB 856 passed unanimously and has been widely applauded, not only by celebrities, but by many others who value privacy and harbor reservations about the rapidly expanding uses of drones.  The new law, however, was only one of five drone-specific bills to reach the governor’s desk in recent weeks. The four other bills were vetoed by Brown, despite strong bipartisan support.

Less than a week earlier, the governor considered Senate Bills 168, 170 and 271. All three, like AB 856, passed with unanimous votes in the Legislature, but unlike AB 856, were met with a veto. According to Brown, he vetoed those bills because they sought to create “new crimes” that added complexity to California’s voluminous criminal code “without commensurate benefit,” given that much of the activity sought to be prohibited was already covered by other criminal provisions. His rejection of the bills comes as a disappointment to those who hoped the governor would embrace the opportunity to address some of the new and unique legal issues presented by the growing ranks of drones in California’s skies.

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