Technically, use over residential areas is already disallowed by the FAA and has been for decades, but some communities are hoping to take matters in their own hands.
From USA Today:
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — City Council here is set to vote on a proposal Thursday to ban drones in residential areas, what could be the first law of its kind in California.
The proposed ordinance bans the flying of "unmanned aircraft that can fly under the control of a remote pilot or by a geographic positions system (GPS) guided autopilot mechanism" up to 400 feet above areas zoned residential. Anything flying higher is in Federal Aviation Administration jurisdiction.
A "drone permit" from the city would be required to make recordings of a single residence, along with written permission from the homeowner.
"Technically, people can use these things to tape people's homes and backyards and put it on YouTube," said Steve Quintanilla, city attorney in this Palm Springs, Calif., suburb of about 20,000.
Remote-controlled drones, capable of flying at low altitudes while equipped with cameras or even weapons, have raised fears of inescapable surveillance by law enforcement from civil liberties advocates. Some 30 states are considering laws curbing their use by authorities, generally by requiring them to first get a probable cause warrant.
In February in Charlottesville, Va., home of the University of Virginia, the council passed a resolution urging the state to limit the use of police spy drones but does not ban drones in the city's air space. St. Bonifaciuis, Minn., population 2,300, followed later in February with its version of an ordinance initiated by the Rutherford Institute civil-liberties group that also forbids operating a drone in the city except on an owner's land.
But the genesis of Rancho Mirage's proposal was a homeowner, annoyed at the buzz of his neighbor's hobby.
"It sounded like a weed-eater, or weed whacker, and I wondered, 'Who's out doing their landscaping on a Sunday afternoon?" said Steve Sonneville, who was trying to relax in his backyard about six weeks ago. "Then I heard it getting louder and louder, and I looked up and realized it was coming from overhead."
The airborne drone, held up by four rotors, was about 50 feet above him.
"It was slowly going back and forth over the backyard of my home," said the defense contractor who works out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. "I knew right away what it was and what was going on."
It took Sonneville a few minutes to find two men in the common area of his gated community piloting the drone remotely.
"I told them, 'I don't think you should be flying that in a subdivision, we have an expectation of privacy.' And they were very cooperative, and basically understood what I was trying to get at," Sonneville said.
The next day he emailed Rancho Mirage Mayor Scott Hines to voice his concerns.
Quintanilla said he never considered expanding the ban to cover the wider concerns. "Law enforcement is a whole different issue. This is an issue of privacy between neighbors."
“I think individuals should be able to use their own property and perhaps common areas of communities to enjoy the technology with their families. Where one crosses the line is by infringing on the privacy of others.”— Scott Hines, mayor of Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Quintanilla said nothing in current law can halt bold invasions of privacy or stop a sex offender from using a drone to search for prey.
Hines, whose family gave him a drone for his birthday last year, said he has played with his iPad-controlled drone in his backyard and taken it to Joshua Tree National Park.
He believes the current language in the draft ordinance might be a little too broad.
"I think individuals should be able to use their own property and perhaps common areas of communities to enjoy the technology with their families. Where one crosses the line is by infringing on the privacy of others," he said.
Councilwoman Iris Smotrich said she's never had a personal encounter with a drone but has read up on the new technology and favors passing tougher regulations as well as the exemption for law enforcement.
"I think law enforcement should be able to use whatever technology is available to them to enforce our laws and make our citizens safe," she said.
Sonneville said he hopes the council will consider adding protections against excessive law enforcement surveillance, not in the proposal now.
Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he's not aware of any proposed or passed laws clamping down on non-law-enforcement use of drones statewide.
A bill has been introduced in the California Senate to clarify that drones do fall under existing invasion of privacy laws, he said.
Use of commercial drones for everything from package delivery to crop dusting is expected to explode once the FAA, which now bans them, comes up with regulations allowing them in, expected to happen by 2015.