Following repeated scuffles between disaster-voyeur drone operators and California firefighters, California lawmakers are proposing legislation that would allow emergency services personnel to destroy interfering drones without fear of reprisal. Last week saw airborne firefighters impeded by a handful of drone operators who were blocking the flight paths necessary for them to drop water onto the flames. Although the legislation is yet to be penned, fears may exist that civilian recording of police actions may be curtailed in instances involving drones. Currently, filming of police in public space is permitted in all 50 states.
Mike Gatto of the California State Assembly and coauthor of the proposed legislation said, “Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation. Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area doesn't mean you should do it.” The legislation is expected to give broad authority for emergency services to take down or disable drones in a rescue situation.
Last Friday’s incident near Interstate 15 was not the first time that drone operators interfered with firefighters, with drones having grounded firefighting aircraft six times in the last three weeks. Currently the US Forest Service issues commands to air tankers to stop its activities until it can be confirmed that the drone has left the area.
According to 911.gov, an emergency is defined as follows: “A fire, a crime, a car crash, or a medical emergency, etc.” Potential destruction of firefighting aircraft and crew injury are clearly possible when they are used above wildfires and the like, but with such a broad definition of emergency, would regular police then be immune from prosecution for the destruction of a private operator’s drone during a traffic stop. With police resistant to the use of body cameras as well as other public, though legal, filming by citizens, skepticism regarding the broad powers that are being pursued may be warranted.