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California pushes 350-foot no-fly drone law

Operators would need express permission to legally fly UAVs above a property's ground level: a hurdle that could ground tech's big plans.


The drone wars are heating up in California as legislators move to ban unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from flying within 350 feet above property ground level without the operators having received express permission.

Senate Bill 142 contains an exemption for lawful flights of government and law enforcement drones.

In other words, you can consider it a proposed ban on private and commercial UAV use – a dismal prospect for companies such as Amazon, with its plans to fill the sky with delivery drones; Google, with its own drone delivery service; and GoPro, the body-wearable camera maker that recently announced it was making its own drone.

All three companies have been battling the legislation, saying that it could crush a burgeoning industry that includes recreational drone use as well as commercial delivery services and emergency response services.

One of the trade’s industry groups, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), has estimated that UAVs could generate $14 billion in economic impact in California over the next 10 years – money that would be jeopardized by the legislation, it says.

Re/code quoted Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy at CEA:

This is problematic for this growing industry, and just not the kind of good public policy we need right now.

That sentiment was echoed by John Doherty, a vice president at TechNet, a lobbying group whose clients include Amazon and Google:

It's fundamentally a ban on commercial use.

But the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, has framed the argument in terms of privacy.

From a statement she put out when the bill was introduced (which happened within days of a drone flying onto the White House lawn):

Drones have a lot of helpful and extremely innovative uses. But invading our privacy and property without permission shouldn’t be among them. When we're in our backyards, with our families, we have an expectation that we have a right to privacy.

Drones have upended all those expectations, and it's important that we set reasonable boundaries so that our privacy and security remain intact. This bill would extend our long-established definitions of trespassing and privacy, and bring them into the 21st century, by applying them also to drones.

Drone operators would still be free to use their drones in public spaces or above 350 feet or more from the ground – airspace that’s subject to federal regulation – as well as on their own property or on others’ property if given permission by the owners.

Jackson doesn’t agree with drone-delivery companies that say the bill’s no-fly zone would cripple delivery capabilities: sources close to the senator’s office told Re/code that the drones are sophisticated enough to drop vertically down to the property of a targeted delivery recipient.

Jackson noted the growing number of public run-ins with drones, including UAVs that have gotten in the way of planes fighting wildfires and a woman who was knocked out when a drone struck her in the head at a pride parade.

Besides falling on people’s heads or endangering emergency responders, drones are also often equipped with privacy-threatening video cameras and sound-recording equipment.

Privacy invasion was the reason a Kentucky man recently gave for shooting down a drone that was hovering over his property and, for all he knew, spying on his daughters, he said.

There’s currently a mishmash of state laws governing drones. Oregon, for one, passed a 400-foot no-fly law in 2013.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 45 states have considered 156 bills related to drones in 2015 alone.

Nineteen states have already passed legislation, and four have adopted drone-related resolutions.

California’s bill passed an assembly vote on Monday by a wide margin – 56 to 13 – and has been passed to the state senate for a vote soon. If it passes, it will land on the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is set to issue regulation on the federal level next month – a prospect that industry would far prefer to this patchwork of state laws.

Re/code quotes Doherty:

It's way better for us to have a national model for drones. This is California trying to assert its jurisdiction in the area.

Image of drone flying over the city courtesy of


Do these guys realize that 400ft is the maximum allowed by FAA regulation? They are basically destroying our ability to fly our aircraft……this type of legislation is precisely why we have an increasing hatred of our government. I don’t hear anyone enacting laws regarding cell phones or digital cameras (that all readily make movies as well)…..This “PRIVACY’ argument is laughable as people are ‘exposed’ all the time. People fled Britain in to found the US to get away from these BS policies.

I view this type of legislation an encroachment on MY liberties of being free to use my very expensive hobby aircraft.

If you wanna punish someone, punish those using it for spying and not the masses.

What the legislature STILL fails to realize is that GOOD citizens, that abide by the law are the only ones being hurt by these types of things. BAD citizens, that are using these devices improperly, are going to ignore any rule you set forth. In addition, overzealous police and authorities will automatically jump to the GUILTY WITHOUT BEING PROVEN sentiment and create unnecessary tension, ill-will, and possibly hurt good, law-abiding citizens. I hear about innocent people all the time being wrongfully accused of crimes and being verbally abused and tortured by law enforcement because they have the ‘power’ to do so b/c of crap things like this.


You are either joking or think the others here are fools. Your example of cell phone cameras is a perfect one. People are free to use these, as long as they are on public property or have permission from the owner to be on private property – I guess you overlooked that detail, huh? Sounds like the exact same situation in what is being proposed here.

This is over due since the “private property” should include the land plus a certain distance above and below ground.

It’s a simple case of formalizing what “private property” consists of and if you trespass (without permission) you are one of the bad guys.


It is like my father and grandfather said…..If you want to be able to do what you want to….buy some land so you can.


This is good. The way folks are using them now by flying over people all the time isn’t a safe practice in RC flying. Don’t fly over people folks. Some of these models weigh several pounds and they have spinning blades. Those blade can mess you up.


quoted Doug Johnson, vice president of technology policy at CEA:
“This is problematic for this growing industry, and just not the kind of good public policy we need right now.”

Really? And all these idiots invading peoples’ privacy and impeding public protection (i.e. messing around in airspace for full-scale aircraft) should be allowed to continue doing so?

If these moronic drone owners want the right to continue acting stupid by endangering public safety and privacy, I demand the right to jam them and take them down.


It sounds like they will be deciding if the amount of income generated will override the rights of the people. Should Murder Inc. be allowed if it generates enough income?


This would also limit ALL Radio Control aircraft too… even the little toy planes you buy your kid for christmas from Radio Shack or Fry’s… If you happen to fly over your neighbor’s yard, or property, you’re in violation of that proposed law….


This is good news – can one imagine the nuisance value of every kid in the street flying these things over your house day and night? For every single drone flown responsibly and within the law there will be fifty that are not. I still cannot believe that Amazon are serious about using these things for delivery, their management should be assessed for lunacy.


States and municipalities are forgetting one thing though, they don’t have jurisdiction over the national airspace (NAS), only the US Government does and any laws they enact restricting flights in the NAS would be preempted by the FAA.


Am in total support of the no-fly-drone Law being put in place. But it seems everybody is more worried about privacy, What about security? If Amazon or Google can deliver doorstep, so can an attacker use it for wicked or evil intention. like in my country where some people derive pleasure in creating havoc. And since anybody can own one, we are really not safe anywhere without those Laws. I just hope my government will see the threats and adopt same laws into our system.

My question remains; how do you tell who the owner of the drone is if your privacy is being violated?


If a trespassing drone is peering into my bedroom window, shouldn’t it fall under the same laws as if the voyeur was there in person? Just because you have money to buy one of these things should not give you the right to get your jollies watching my family members bathe or change their clothes.

We need to get this under control. Perverts (NSA or private individuals) should be smacked down hard.

I would support drones for use in Police Actions – such as taking down a criminal, but other than that I see no redeeming value for these devices.


What you all fail to realize is that at least the big three ( US, Russia, China ) ALL have a multitude of satellites in orbit at 200 miles above the earth. They constantly survey the entire planet every day. They can read a license plate with clarity from that distance. You lost your ” right to privacy ” during the Cold War and its never coming back. Your back yards are scanned daily. The only expectation to privacy you have is inside your house, with the shades drawn. As for ” Air rights” you have none . All Airspace over the U.S. Is controlled by the FAA. Any pilot will tell you this.


Wouldn’t the average vehicle number plate/tag/licence plate be effectively invisible from 200 miles up into space, regardless of the size and clarity of the characters, simply due to parallax? Most satellite images I’ve seen (e.g. Google Maps) are pretty much “straight down” views, so things like billboards, office signs, building names and so on generally aren’t visible, let alone legibile. (The magnificent Sydney Harbour Bridge looks like a ladder laid on the ground :-)


Paul, Not necessarily, as these satellites can be aimed at a specific area. Some of the current satellites are the size of a school bus, think the Hubble Telescope on steroids and aimed not up, but down. The officially published resolution scale is 5-6 inches from 200 miles up.not to mention that they have other sensors besides the optical ones. The Google images you speak of are the commercial ones, if a lesser quality. The Google images are shot pretty much straight down. Another example of the technology gap between civilian and military . The GPS satellites have 2 sides one military, the other civilian. Where the civilian GPS side will get you to within 50 to 100 feet, the military side will get you to within 2 inches of your position anywhere on the earth. But the real point here is that people are going bonkers over drones, when the world’s commercial and military satellite operators have been looking down from space since Zenit 2 in 1961.


Not ” if a lesser quality” but rather “of a lesser quality.” This is by design,due to the nature of the agreements between the commercial operators and the military, same as with the GPS satellites . The actual resolution of our surveillance satellites is highly classified..


You haven’t touched on the parallax issue, though. Can writing on the face of vertical objects close to the ground really be resolved from up there or not? That was my question.

And if the resolution is 150mm from 320km up (for those of us who don’t get on with inches and miles)…good luck reading a number plate even if you lie it flat on the ground. In my part of the world, standard plates are less than 120mm high, IIRC, and that’s including the border. So each character on the plate would be smaller than one pixel.

I’m not saying that The Man can’t read number plates from 200 miles up. But I am asking for some explanation/evidence that it’s possible. To me, given what I’ve heard here so far, it sounds improbable.


Paul, look up the article Advanced Keyhole/IMPROVED CRYSTAL/”KH-12″ by Charles P. Vick copyrighted 2007 ( 04/25/07). As of 2007 their resolution was 10 centimeters or 3.937 inches. Their sensors can see thru clouds , smoke and haze , and have infrared and radar capabilities. Making them literally able to see both in daylight and darkness. And that was 8 years ago. Now they also are rumored to employ “Synthetic Aperture Radar” allowing them to see a fist from hundreds of miles distant. So whether you think it improbable or not, they are doing it. However that is not the point. The fact is , as I stated before , since the 60’s there has been ongoing surveillance from on high. So we , the earth- bound have no celestial privacy, but because we don’t see the satellites zooming overhead, we ignore it. This whole Drone issue ( they are not going away either) just brought it back into the limelight.


I just went and measured the characters on a couple of different number plates outside. (The size is standardised in all the jurisdictions in my region.) They are 75mm x 35mm, which is quite a bit smaller than my fist.

So your 100mmx100mm pixels just aren’t going to be able to resolve them, I’m afraid. Even at 100 times that resolution (10mmx10mm pixels) from straight ahead, not at an angle from above, you are not going to be able to read my tag.

Anyway, I have a bicycle. They don’t have tags.

[This thread is now closed.]


Not gonna happen. Property rights only extend to the maximum useable height, be that of your building, and antenna, or your landscaping. Beyond that is public. Sorry, “air rights” have already been argued and settled years ago.


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