Missouri lawmaker proposes limits on drone surveillance

Monday, December 31, 2012 | 3:28 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — A Missouri lawmaker has proposed legislation to limit surveillance by drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles.

The bill proposed by State Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, would require law enforcement officers to get a warrant before using drones to gather evidence or other information about criminal activities. It also would ban people, organizations and state agencies from using unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance of people, farms or agricultural operations without the owner's permission.

Guernsey said he does not want state government to start monitoring residents more than it already does. He said widespread use of drones flying above Missouri scares him.

"It would be a nightmare scenario for me," he said. "It isn't far-fetched that we could see government agencies deploy drones to spy on individuals and businesses around the state."

The proposed Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act would allow civil lawsuits in cases of violations and bar authorities from using wrongly gathered information in court.

The Kansas City Star reported similar bills have been proposed in other states. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, has sponsored federal legislation that would require a warrant before the government could use drones for surveillance.

In Missouri, Guernsey has an ally in the American Civil Liberties Union.

"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, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. "This bill is simply common-sense regulation."

American courts historically have concluded that aerial surveillance is legal without a warrant. But privacy advocates have expressed fears that it could be abused because unmanned drones are cheaper to build and fly than a traditional helicopter.

Missouri lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Jan. 9 for their 2013 session.

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