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Posted by on Sep 1, 2015

California: Anti-Innovation? And Are We Too Late?

California: Anti-Innovation? And Are We Too Late?

DroneBan-CAsmCalifornia and anti-innovation are not words you would often see in a sentence together. For years, California has been at the forefront for innovation in technology and automation, including being a leader in the development of drones. Over 100 companies in California are involved with developing the drone ecosystem and hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the advancement of drone technology in the state. Yet the California State Assembly just took a step to hinder the growth of the drone market which is predicted to bring billions of dollars in economic benefit to the United States.

Governor Jerry Brown is now sitting on Senate Bill 142 which would require drones to fly 350 feet or higher over private property if the operator does not have consent from the property owner. And remember the FAA has capped drone flight at a maximum altitude of 400 feet (proposed 500 feet in the small UAS rule) which gives a very narrow corridor where drones are able to fly to provide the great benefit we all know they can provide. Think about Amazon, Google, Flirtey and the other drone delivery companies..how will this limit their ability to increase customer and end user productivity through rapid and efficient goods delivery by drone?

Senator Hannah Beth-Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) introduced the bill and in a statement said “I believe we can set reasonable limits that allow innovative uses while protecting our private property, privacy and security.” I’ve always been a proponent of reasonable limits and allowing innovation but this bill took a step too far and would eliminate innovation and allowing for the growth of this market.

Despite the arbitrary altitude constraints to fly drones in California, my biggest concern with this bill is it’s failure to actually address the privacy concern that it intended to address. From my perspective, the privacy issue and debate is not about the equipment that is collecting data…it’s about how the data is collected. Drones can capture footage, but so can smartphones, or stationary cameras in cities, or satellites, or cameras with sophisticated lenses and the list goes on and on.  There are laws that exist that protect citizens from privacy violations. However, how these devices collect, store and use the data is the issue that has failed to be addressed.

Instead of introducing a bill, in California or any other state, that sets arbitrary altitude restrictions for drones to protect privacy (notice the bill doesn’t distinguish between drones with cameras and drones without), the discussion that needs to take place should be about the data captured by drones and any other device. From a data standpoint, I do not believe our laws have kept up with the advancements in technology, and while I do not purport to provide a solution here, there are ways we can protect citizens privacy through data protections, and not by limiting how and where drones can fly to provide valuable services to humankind.

There has been plenty of buzz about CA SB 142 and many industry experts have provided plenty of commentary so I’ll wrap up my personal evaluation of the bill.

However, I’d like to ask – where were the Californian’s when this bill came to the floor?  Where were those 100+ companies who’s businesses will be negatively impacted by this bill? Where were the industry trade groups that help educate lawmakers?

Being a California resident and a former trade association lobbyist, I will take my share of responsibility for not doing more to educate the California State Assembly.  But the rest of our community needs to do the same. We simply cannot let this happen again when we have so much at stake for our businesses, for other states looking at drone legislation and for the community as a whole.

It may be too little too late, but there are still ways to get involved.  First step is to join the Innovation Movement (founded by CEA) and send an email to Governor Brown urging him to veto the bill. http://www.innovationmovement.com/drones  It’s quick and easy to do…I’ve sent my email, now will you?

California – we need to unite, engage industry associations for support and start educating our legislators more aggressively. We must take responsibility for our own industry and enable its success. We must educate together and take the time to protect what we have built.

It’s time – send that email to Governor Jerry Brown before it’s too late.