SACRAMENTO – California Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown, Jr. vetoed  a bill to stop warrantless surveillance by drones on Sunday, saying the bill would prove “too restrictive to law enforcement.”

AB1327 would have required law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant based on probable cause before using a drone, with a few exceptions.

The measure began the road to becoming law in early 2013. AB-1327 passed both the Assembly and Senate overwhelmingly, with votes 68-4 and 26-8 respectively.

While AB1327 restricted law enforcement use of drone surveillance, it included four common legal exceptions to the warrant requirement.

 A law enforcement agency, without obtaining a warrant, may use an unmanned aircraft system in all of the following circumstances:

(1)  In emergency situations if there is an imminent threat to life or of great bodily harm, including, but not limited to, fires, hostage
crises, “hot pursuit” situations if reasonably necessary to prevent harm to law enforcement officers or others, and search and rescue operations on land or water.

(2)  To assess the necessity of first responders in situations relating to traffic accidents.

(3)  (A)  To inspect state parks and wilderness areas for illegal vegetation or fires. (B)  For purposes of this paragraph, “wilderness areas” means public lands without permanent improvements or human habitation.

(4)  To determine the appropriate response to an imminent or existing environmental emergency or disaster, including, but not limited to, oils spills or chemical spills.

That wasn’t enough for Brown. In his veto message, he said the exceptions did not go far enough.

There are undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate. The bill’s exceptions, however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the 4th Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California’s state constitution.

There are only a few recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement (check here and here). These includes plain view, stop and frisk, emergency, hot pursuit, consent, automobiles,  and in some cases highly regulated industries. The exceptions in the bill seem to include those parameters.

“This is an absurd veto and tells me that Gov. Brown doesn’t give a damn about privacy,” Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey said. “The exceptions to the warrant requirement included in the bill were more than adequate. Jerry makes it sound like he took some kind of oath forbidding him to protect privacy too much. I mean really? Does he really think a law can’t go beyond what the courts have said? Civil libertarians in California should take note.”

Governor Brown’s veto statement is unacceptable. He seems to think of warrants as exceptions to be issued when appropriate rather than the rule. It appears Brown values maintaining the broadest number of exceptions allowable as more important than protecting the privacy of Californians. His words decrease the value and legal authority of the warrant requirement in both the Fourth Amendment and California State Constitution.


Kelli Sladick

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