Privacy matters. Giving consumers control of their personal information is central to many pieces of good legislation in California. Unfortunately, SB 142 (Jackson) – which is intended to provide privacy protections related to small, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – will instead stifle innovation without providing real privacy protections. AB 856 (Calderon), on the other hand, does afford meaningful privacy protections. The juxtaposition between these two bills, both of which are currently on Governor Brown’s desk, is clear. A veto of SB 142 paired with a signing of AB 856 demonstrates a willingness to stand against hollow messaging legislation while supporting meaningful protections of privacy.

If an irresponsible operator spies on your family by flying a small UAV in his or her own yard, you have no recourse under SB 142. However, if a delivery drone with no recording mechanism flies over your property without your express permission to deliver a package of medical supplies to your neighbor, SB 142 considers it an invasion of privacy. If this doesn’t make sense to you from a privacy perspective, you are right. SB 142 doesn’t address behaviors that constitute privacy breaches – it creates arbitrary guidelines, including a 350 foot altitude limit that is inconsistent with limits set by the Federal Aviation Administration, that are impractical and unworkable.

Ironically, the author explains, “When we’re in our backyards, with our families, we have an expectation that we have a right to privacy.” SB 142 simply doesn’t ensure that is the case. Instead, it restricts UAVs that pose no threat to privacy and provides no recourse if an operator were actually spying on you.

According to the Assembly Judiciary Committee synopsis, SB 142 “establishes a new and unusual definition of trespass.” Even if done so unintentionally, legislation that creates new definitions and standards of harm that allow for more litigation should be reconsidered so that California businesses are not subject to repeated frivolous, yet costly, lawsuits.

As an alternative to SB 142, AB 856 addresses privacy in a straightforward manner by creating a right of action against anyone who uses a UAV to take images (still photos or video) of a person engaging in personal, familial, or private activities on his or her property. By tailoring the offense to this conduct, AB 856 is at the core of what the right to privacy is all about.

Privacy protection is worthy goal, but SB 142 is unfortunately a step in the wrong direction. Governor Brown should veto SB 142 and sign into law AB 856.