By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – A bill to confine the use of drones in Missouri to limited law enforcement cases is gaining support in the Show Me State.
There was little opposition to the measure in a short committee hearing on the issue Tuesday, and agricultural and civil liberties groups have spoken in favor of the legislation.
House Bill 46 from Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, would prohibit any person or state department except law enforcement from deploying unmanned aircraft over private property without consent. Police officers could do so only if they had a warrant or were using the drone in an active chase or other case of imminent danger.
“We need to make sure Missouri doesn’t become a police state as the technology becomes more prevalent and the costs become cheaper,” Guernsey told Missouri Watchdog.
Rumors abounded last June that the Environmental Protection Agency was dispatching drones from Kansas City, Kan., to investigate whether cow manure was fouling water supplies in Midwestern states, including the largely agricultural area in northwest Missouri represented by Guernsey.
Then U.S. Rep. Todd Akin wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson with concerns about the practice. It turned out the agency was flying small piloted planes in Iowa and Nebraska but not in Missouri.
Guernsey said the incident was the impetus for his legislation.
Public concern over the drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs – and their use domestically is creating unlikely partnerships.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri is an ally in the fight with Guernsey, who considers himself a tea party conservative.
“As drones become less expensive, our fear is that police and other agencies could use them for fishing expeditions that infringe on an individual’s right to privacy, said Gary Brunk, local executive director for the ACLU. “This bill is simply common-sense regulation.”
Drone usage is more prevalent in other states. The Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained records from the Federal Aviation Administration showing the agency had authorized drone usage in neighboring states such as Arkansas and Kansas.
Capt. Tim Hull, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, told Watchdog on Wednesday that the department didn’t
have any comment on Guernsey’s pending legislation.
“We’ll enforce whatever laws are passed,” Hull said.
He said the highway patrol doesn’t use drones, and he wasn’t aware of any plans to use them in the future.
Guernsey said his legislation, which he dubs the Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, is a preventative measure to keep Missouri government agencies from implementing the technology.
“I’m not aware of any state agency now using drones, which I think makes it the perfect time to act on this,” he said.
Guernsey’s bill also places penalties on illegal drone usage. Any information obtained with them in violation of the act would be inadmissible in court, and victims could bring a civil suit against the person or agency that operated the drone over their property.
In most cases, law enforcement agencies would have to fly drones over private property to reach the particular area being surveyed. Watchdog asked Guernsey if he’s worried that could be a sticking point in the law.
“If it’s so important they need to use [drones] a warrant would cover them,” he said.