By Brian Heaton

Legislation that requires police to obtain a warrant to use surveillance drones is close to becoming law in California.

State lawmakers approved the measure -- AB 1327 -- on Wednesday, Aug. 27. If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, law enforcement agencies in California would need a warrant before deploying unmanned aerial drones, except in the case of environmental emergencies.

The legislation is needed because the expanded adoption of drones by law enforcement has impacted the public’s expectation of privacy, according to Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, the bill’s sponsor.

“There are tremendous benefits that can be realized from these tools, but only if we first pass the legislation that will protect our civil and privacy rights from abuses of the technology,” Gorell said in a statement. “As the tech capitol of the nation, California should also lead in protecting our privacy from intrusions by new technology.”

In addition to the warrant requirement, AB 1327 also mandates that government agencies notify the public when they intend to use drones and requires drone-collected data – including images – be destroyed within one year. The measure also prohibits drones from carrying or being used as weapons. Local jurisdictions are free to adopt stricter rules than the bill outlines.