On April 28, 2015, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill (SB 766) that prohibits businesses and government agencies from using drones to conduct surveillance by capturing images of private real property or individuals on such property without valid written consent under circumstances where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.
The bill expands Florida’s Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act to prohibit the “use [of] a drone equipped with an imaging device to record an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image in violation of such person’s reasonable expectation of privacy without his or her written consent.” Under the bill, there is a presumption that a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy on his or her privately owned real property if he or she is not observable by persons located at ground level in a place where they have a legal right to be, regardless of whether he or she is observable from the air with the use of a drone.” The term “surveillance” is broadly defined to cover surveillance activities that allow drone operators to observe individuals and real property with sufficient visual clarity to obtain information about an individual’s identity, habits, conduct, movements or whereabouts, or the unique identifying features or occupancy of the property.
Individuals will have a private right of action under the bill to seek compensatory damages, including punitive damages and attorney fees, and injunctive relief for violations of the surveillance prohibition. The bill, however, contains several exceptions to the surveillance prohibition, such as when drones are used for certain surveillance purposes by utilities, state-licensed entities, and businesses delivering cargo, conducting environmental monitoring or engaging in aerial mapping.
The Florida Senate passed the bill in a 37-2 vote on April 23, 2015, and as a result of the recent House vote, the bill will be sent to Florida’s governor for approval.