By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – A bill that would ban cops from using drones got a warm welcome Thursday from a legislative committee in Nebraska.
Nebraska is among 11 states considering limiting the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, as they move from battlefields to backyards.
In Nebraska, Sen. Paul Schumacher, a former county attorney, introduced a bill that would prohibit law enforcement from using drones. As America’s wars in the Middle East wind down, he’s concerned “Madison Avenue firms” will be lobbying police departments to buy the drones.
And while Schumacher’s bill flat out bans the use of drones by law enforcement, he’s open to making exceptions for things such as search-and-rescue missions and other uses that don’t infringe on people’s privacy.
“The government does not need to have its nose in everybody’s backyard or above everybody’s farm,” he told the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
The bill got enthusiastic support from a key ally, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers — whose been known to make or break a bill in the Legislature in his 38-year history as a senator.
“Bless you my son,” he said to Schumacher after he explained his bill. “I’m opposed to mechanical so-called justice.”
Chambers — no fan of law enforcement — talked about how drones could hover near windows and spy on cars without probable cause.
“They want to be able to intrude on the personal lives of everyone,” he said of police.
Chambers then went on a diatribe about how police terrorize people and abuse their power in his north Omaha neighborhood.
“If it sounds like I don’t trust the police, I don’t, and they know it. You don’t see the side of police we see,” he said. “They’re not our friends, they don’t protect and serve. They are our enemies based on the way they treat us.”
He said he’d like to see a penalty added to the bill — such as loss of certification as a law enforcement officer — for violations.
“It’s not enough to tell them, ‘Don’t do it,’” Chambers said.
Amy Miller, legal director for ACLU Nebraska, noted drones have already been used by the EPA to monitor cattle feed lots in Nebraska, and tiny robotic Dragonfly drones can be purchased for $119. They can be operated by an iPad or smart phone and weigh as much as a AA battery, she said.
“Technology has pushed us to a new frontier,” she said. “But private protections haven’t kept up.”
Although private citizens can also buy drones, Miller said the bigger concern is the “damage the government could do” with them.
Miller noted that opposition to police using drones is a nonpartisan issue, with the conservative Rutherford Institute opposing their use.
Some senators were surprised to learn about drones — such as Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, who went online and found he could have bought a drone in the time it took for the committee to hear testimony on the bill.
“If we don’t do this and this cat gets out of the bag, he’s awful hard to catch and get back in,” Schumacher said.
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