California lawmaker warned anti-paparazzi bills could limit news gathering

Transient

A series of bills that passed the California General Assembly on Wednesday were designed to reign in the state's use of drones and protect celebrities and the general public from the paparazzi, but at least one lawmaker warned they might also prevent the press from doing its job.

AB 1327, which passed the assembly with a 59-5 vote, would require that public agencies permanently destroy images and footage obtained from their drones to be destroyed within six months. The bill would prohibit drone-gathered data from being "disseminated outside the collecting agency."

Journalists in New Jersey spoke out against a similar bill that passed both houses of that state's legislature. The New Jersey bill required that state agencies not make available drone-gathered data "to the public or any third party." Agencies also would have been required to delete any non-relevant data after 14 days.

The New Jersey Press Association raised concerns that the bill would conflict with the state's Open Records Act, and would prevent journalists from learning how state agencies were using drones. However, the drone bill became one of 44 bills that Gov. Chris Christie let expire through pocket veto.

Meanwhile in California, AB 1256, which would make it illegal to obstruct anyone from attempting to enter or exit a school, hospital, hotel, or residence, passed 53-19. And AB 1356, which also passed 53-19, would treat surveillance as a form of stalking.

The latter bill defined surveillance as "remaining present outside of the plaintiff’s school, place of employment, vehicle, residence, other than the residence of the defendant, or other place occupied by the plaintiff." A provision in the bill excludes "any newsgathering conduct temporally connected to newsworthy event."

Donald Wagner, a Republican assemblyman from Irvine, cautioned that "this bill goes way too far to prohibit lots of conduct that is legitimate newsgathering," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Posted on January 31, 2014 .