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Florida Keys News
Sunday, July 13, 2014
U.A.S. causes privacy issues

As more drones fitted with video cameras find their way into the hands of ordinary citizens, concerns about privacy are becoming more of an issue.

Key West is seeing a growing interest in drones, which are also called unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS.

There are several drone hobbyists buzzing the island, and two companies, Keys Aerial Productions and Vivid Aerial Media, offer aerial video services that utilize drones.

The idea of video companies shooting homes and commercial properties in a town with such small lots makes Key West ripe for a debate about privacy.

"This could be a big invasion of privacy," Key West resident Bob Hans said. "This is not a bunch of kids flying small remote control planes."

Hans was at the epicenter of a fracas after a drone crashed a July 4 fireworks party at West Martello on Higgs Beach.

A drone owned by Keys Aerial Productions co-owner Tyler Van Nash malfunctioned and fell into a crowd of revelers. The group was clearly irritated by the presence of the drone prior to its fall from the sky. After the drone crashed to the ground, some of the revelers stomped on and broke the roughly $1,200 piece of equipment.

The incident lead to complaints to both the Key West Police Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Van Nash took responsibility for the accident, calling it a lesson learned.

Keys Aerial Productions and Vivid Aerial Media representatives understand that technology can be used for nefarious purposes, but no more than binoculars or other video surveillance equipment, they said.

"We don't want people to feel like we are invading their privacy, we want people to think, 'Wow, this is super cool technology,'" said Quincy Perkins, one of the owners Vivid Aerial Media. "Were not using it to spy."

The Florida Legislature recognized the need to regulate drones because of privacy issues. In 2013, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, a measure severely restricting the use of drones by law enforcement in the state.

It prohibits such agencies from using a drone to gather evidence or other information unless a judge specifically allows a drone to be used to complete a search warrant, if there is a terrorist attack, or other extenuating circumstances, such as a person's life is in danger.

"I believe that privacy should be protected and I look forward to signing Sen. (Joe) Negron's drone bill," Gov. Scott said at the time of it passing the state Legislature. "This law will ensure that the rights of Florida families are protected from the unwarranted use of drones and other unmanned aircraft."

The Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida gave significant input during the drafting of the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, said Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida.

Simon fears that without government regulation of drones, the country will become a "society of surveillance where our every moment is monitored, tracked and videotaped."

"This is an area that screams for regulation," Simon said. "The technology is outpacing the speed of regulation. I don't think that you should lose your right to privacy just because your neighbor has technology that can look over your 10-foot privacy fence."

The FAA is also concerned about the rise in unmanned aircraft and their impact on people's privacy. The FAA selected six unmanned aircraft operators, none of them in Florida, for a pilot program that will allow the FAA to develop rules to safeguard against intrusions in privacy, according to FAA officials.

tohara@keynews.com

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