During the review of immigration reform on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of Senator Feinstein's amendment that would protect more of Southern California from US Customs' drone oversight.
The original version of the bill includes Article 1106 , titled “Equipement and Technology,” which reads:
“ENHANCEMENTS.—The Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, working through U.S. Border Patrol, shall— 1. deploy additional mobile, video, and agent-portable surveillance systems, and unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles in the Southwest Border region as necessary to provide 24-hour operation and surveillance; 2. operate unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles along the Southern border for 24 hours per day and for 7 days per week”
This provision would have been applicable to an area within 100 miles of the border with Mexico, potentially including the San Diego area and it's millions of inhabitants.
Considering the important privacy concerns this would raise in such a densely populated area, Senator Feinstein's amendment creates an exemption from drone oversight specifically for Southern California. The amendment reads:
(b) LIMITATION.— (1) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding paragraphs (1) and (2) of subsection (a), and except as provided in paragraph (2), U.S. Border Patrol may not operate unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles in the San Diego and El Centro Sectors, except within 3 miles of the Southern border. (2) EXCEPTION.—The limitation under this subsection shall not restrict the maritime operations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
With the already strong concerns over the use of drones and their potential violation of privacy rights, the vote in favor of this amendment will be a relief for many Californians.