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California Drone Bill, Fought by Tech Groups, Moves to Governor's Desk

The bill would forbid drones from flying below 350 feet without express permission of the property owners below.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A California bill that would curtail the flight patterns of drones — legislation that several big Silicon Valley players, including GoPro and advocacy groups repping Amazon and Google, are feverishly opposing — moved closer to becoming law on Thursday. The bill passed in the state Senate by a vote of 21-10.

The bill won approval in the state Assembly on Monday and now heads to the desk of Democratic governor Jerry Brown.

Its language creates a “no-fly” zone for unmanned aerial vehicles, forbidding them from flying below 350 feet without express permission of the property owners below.

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, frames it as a necessary step in developing privacy rights around the fledgling technology. Tech groups disagree, claiming the legislation is draconian and undercuts the nascent industry, which is set to expand from recreational sales to broader use cases, like delivery.

“This bill is a balanced approach that will allow the commercial use of drones, should that one day become an option, while keeping our important rights to privacy and private property intact,” Jackson said in a statement.

The Consumer Electronics Association and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, tech groups opposing the bill in Sacramento, condemned its passage in a statement. “SB 142 may look like a privacy bill, but it would open the door to a new class of frivolous lawsuits in California and create inconsistencies with federal law. Drones hold the power to create new businesses, improve our lives and transform the way we do business.”

The CEA has estimated that the drone industry will generate $14 billion in California over the next decade.

Update: An earlier version of this story attributed the quote from CEA to Brian Wynne. Wynne is president and CEO of Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. He released the statement jointly with CEA president Gary Shapiro. We regret the error.

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