Many rights groups and privacy advocates are concerned that extensive drone use without serious privacy safeguards is dangerous. They have noted that drones with facial recognition cameras, license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras, open Wi-Fi sniffers and other sensors could be easily used for general public safety surveillance in violation of privacy laws and constitutional rights.
"We have long warned about the dangers of unregulated, warrantless use of surveillance technology, and unfortunately the changes in surveillance technology have outstripped the law's ability to adapt to protect people," said Baylor Johnson, a spokesman for the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
From that standpoint, the Florida bill is a major step forward, he said. "The fact that both votes were unanimous shows a recognition by our legislators that these protections are overdue," he said via email. "This bill is a major leap for Florida in catching up to the state of technology by putting strict controls in place that protect everyone from needless, invasive surveillance."
The drone industry and its supporters, a group that includes some of the biggest aerospace and defense companies in the world, have downplayed such concerns. They have noted that apart from some of the obvious law enforcement purposes, drones can be extremely useful in other ways, including traffic management, crop monitoring, land management, news reporting and real estate sales.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.