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It is currently lawful for law enforcement to capture an image using a drone of real property or a person on real property that is within 25 miles of the United States border. This House committee substitute would would revoke that authority entirely. This is very different from the bill passed by the Senate which would have limited the scope of law enforcement authority to use a drone to capture an image of real property or a person on real property within 25 miles of the international border for the sole purposes of enforcing border security.
CSSB 840 would also allow telecommunications providers to have the same drone image capturing rights as an electric or natural gas utility. In addition, SB 840 would allow an employee or affiliate of an insurance company to capture drone images for the purpose of underwriting a policy or rating or adjusting a claim for real property if the operator is authorized by the FAA.
We supported SB 840 in the Senate because tightening of the statutorily allowable usage of a drone by law enforcement within 25 miles of the international border would offer some extra protection for privacy on private property without diminishing the ability of law enforcement to maintain border security. We do not support the House committee substitute's full revocation of this specific authority because it may make border security more difficult.
The only reason we are not switching to oppose is because the same statute this bill amends says it is lawful to capture an image using a drone "if the image is captured by a law enforcement authority or a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of a law enforcement authority" or "with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image". So, even the committee substitute language does not entirely eliminate the ability to use drones for border security. For these reasons we continue to support the bill but recommend restoration of the Senate language on law enforcement use of drones within 25 miles of the international border.