MIAMI
03/08/2013 12:02 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2013

Florida Police Drones: House Committee Unanimously Passes New Bill Restricting Use

Florida lawmakers are hoping to restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, in Sunshine State skies.

Thursday a House committee unanimously passed the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, which limits police to use camera drones only if they have a search warrant or can prove “imminent danger.”

In 2011 Miami-Dade Police were the first in the country to have a Federal Aviation Administration permit to use drones similar to those used in Afghanistan. See a full fact sheet on their two drones below.

The FAA has since authorized 81 public entities to fly UAVs in U.S. airspace as long as they are flown no more than 400 feet off the ground, during the day, outside city limits and within sight of the operator, according to police documents.

With those parameters, it's no wonder that Miami-Dade Police have yet to use either of their two drones, the Miami New Times reports, the only UAVS owned by any agency in Florida.

Miami-Dade Police recently filed to renew their FAA permit, a spokesperson telling Miami New Times "Our ultimate goal is obviously to expand the realm with the FAA, building up the credibility of how we use [the drones]. We're showing them that we operate this responsibly."

Police agencies attest drones will be used surveillance of suspects, search and rescue operations, and gathering details on damage caused by natural disasters, but lawmakers are wary of overuse.

“What we’re trying to do is make it very clear to our police chiefs and to our sheriffs…don’t game the system,” Rep. Ritch Workman, (R-Melbourne) who sponsored the House bill, said as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. “Do not tell me you’re putting a drone up for a forest fire but you’re really going to fly it over a neighborhood where you think there might be drug activity going on.”

The possibility of constant surveillance has many troubled.

"I don't think the American public is ready for what I call the 'Taliban treatment,'" Patrick Egan, a consultant for a UAV industry trade group told The Huffington Post. "This is still America."

Drones are a hotly contested topic after a confidential Justice Department memo on drone strikes was obtained by NBC News in February. It revealed that the 'U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders' of al-Qaida or 'an associated force' -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S."

The drones owned by Miami-Dade Police and other domestic agencies have no weapons and are merely used for surveillance.

Florida lawmakers attempting to limit use of these spy drones still have to have their legislation pass several committees before going before the Senate and signed off by Governor Rick Scott to become law.

Drone fact sheet from Miami-Dade Police by Janelle Irwin

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