By Chuck Johnston and Matt Smith
(CNN) — Florida state senators voted Wednesday to restrict the use of unmanned aircraft by police, approving a bill backed by both the state’s conservative Republican governor and the ACLU.
The Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act would require a judge to sign off on the use of surveillance drones in nearly all cases. The legislation makes exceptions in cases involving “imminent danger to life or serious damage to property” and when “credible intelligence” from the federal Department of Homeland Security points to “a high risk of a terrorist attack.”
The bill is headed for the state House of Representatives after Wednesday’s 39-0 vote in the Senate. If it makes it through the House, Gov. Rick Scott says he’ll have his pen ready.
“I believe that privacy should be protected,” Scott said in a paper statement, adding, “This law will ensure that the rights of Florida families are protected from the unwarranted use of drones and other unmanned aircraft.”
The use of drones has become controversial in recent years as unmanned aerial vehicles have become cheaper and more advanced. The concerns range from moral questions over their use in warfare overseas to worries about their impact on air traffic in the United States.
“We are pleased that SB 92 was passed with such enthusiasm by the Florida Senate. Because of the Senate’s action, our state is on pace to be the one of the first to protect privacy by putting limits on the use of unmanned surveillance drones, ” Ron Bilbao of the ACLU of Florida said in a written statement.
In Florida, the Miami-Dade Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff Department each have two drones. Miami-Dade’s roughly backpack-sized Honeywell T-Hawks have been used only in training exercises so far, Detective Roy Rutland said.
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