Florida Senate Bill 44 (SB-44). was introduced in December of 2020. It proposed an expansion of the authorized use of drones by law enforcement agencies, state agencies, political subdivisions, or by fire department personnel. This bill was approved and went into effect officially on July 1, 2020. Prior to SB-44’s approval, Florida state law prohibited law enforcement agencies from using drones to covertly gather information on public citizens. The law also forbade citizens and state agencies from using drones to capture images of other citizens, as that would constitute a violation of the citizen’s reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. To learn more about Florida’s prior drone laws, please visit our blog here.
Law enforcement agencies could use drones to gather data or information if the United States Department of Homeland Security found a credible, high risk of terrorism if not for the drone’s intervention.
Agencies could use drones after obtaining a search warrant.
Agencies could use drones if immediate action was necessary to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect, the destruction of evidence, or to search for a missing person.
The New Drone Law’s Delineated Uses and Exceptions:
As with the old law, the new law, enacted by Governor Ron DeSantis, opened more exceptions in the use of drones, such as:
Law enforcement is permitted to use drones to view any crowd of over fifty people from above. However, there must be policies in place that include the agency’s use of a drone, proper storage, retention, and release guidelines for any of the images or video captured by the drone, personal safety and constitutional protections of the people observed by the drone, and the head of the law enforcement agency can only use the drone for this purpose if they have the written authority for such use. A file must be maintained regarding the authorized use.
Law enforcement agencies may use drones to assist with traffic management.
Law enforcement agencies may use drones to collect evidence at a crime or traffic crash scene.
A state agency or political subdivision may use drones to assess flood, wildfire, or any other nature disaster’s damage that is the subject of a state emergency declared by the state or by a political subdivision. The assessment must occur prior to the expiration of the emergency declaration.
A state or political subdivision may use drones to manage vegetation or wildlife on publicly owned land or water.
A certified fire department may use drones to perform tasks within the scope and practice authorized under their certifications.
Other Possible Uses
Sargent Paul Bloom, spokesman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office stated that the expanded drone usage could also be used to help look for a “lost child, … a dementia patient,… at crime scene where a helicopter would be too invasive, for SWAT [the drones] could be used to take a closer look at a barricaded subject without jeopardizing any … troops.” Bloom further believes that other agencies are going to increase drone usage in the future due to the new law’s expansions. He says these expansions will be used to “make our citizens [safer] and fight crime,” but Sgt. Bloom does not ignore the “obvious fear that some folks have that law enforcement or government agencies would utilize this technology to spy on them.”
This law also introduced new security standards for government agencies using drones in the state of Florida. According to the new law, by January of 2022, the Florida Department of Management Services will collaborate with the state chief information officer and publish on the department’s website a list of drone manufacturers approved by the department that government agencies may buy drones from. These approved manufacturers will have to include the “appropriate safeguards” for drone use in order to account for privacy of information, integrity of citizen’s rights to privacy, and the availability of the data collected, transmitted, or stored by the drone’s usage by law enforcement and government agencies. Apparently, once the published list of approved manufacturers appears on the website, the law prohibits government agencies from buying from any company not approved and on the list. Additionally, by July of 2022, any agency using a drone that does not come from a manufacturer on the approved list will need to submit a plan for retiring said drones. By January of 2023, all government agencies must halt the use of drones not made by an approved manufacturer.
How We Can Help
Florida’s new drone laws will make law enforcement investigations and criminal arrests trickier, as navigating around Fourth Amendment protections and the new law will take some getting used to. In order to ensure that illegal drone usage does not play a part in the criminal case of you or a loved one, it is important to retain a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney well-versed in drone laws. Don Pumphrey and the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience and keep up to date in Florida’s drone law changes and will ensure your rights are protected from illegal drone usage. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with a criminal defense attorney or drone attorney in our legal team.
Attorney Don Pumphrey, Jr. is a former prosecutor, former law enforcement officer, and a successful and experienced criminal defense attorney. Don has achieved over 100 not guilty verdicts at trial and over 2,000 dismissals.