Some Missouri lawmakers hope the state is among the first to protect farmers and other landowners from aerial surveillance either by unmanned drones or airplanes, as the Missouri House passed a bill last week that requires a warrant before surveillance can take place.
As of February there were at least 12 states working on similar measures following controversy that arose when news surfaced last year that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was using planes to look for potential Clean Water Act violations at large feedlot operations in the Midwest including in Nebraska and Iowa.
In June 2012 the Nebraska Congressional delegation of Sens. Mike Johanns, R, and Ben Nelson, D, along with Republican Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, Adrian Smith and Lee Terry, sent a letter to EPA asking a number of questions about the flights.
Farm groups and others expressed concern about what is perceived to be an expansion of EPA authority onto U.S. farms. In the past two years Republican-led committees in the U.S. House of Representatives have held numerous hearings, calling on now-former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and other agency officials to testify on a variety of issues.
EPA held a series of public meetings with farmers in Iowa and Nebraska last summer, after rumors about EPA allegedly using drones to fly above U.S. farms. That was later proven to be untrue.
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Similar measures have been under consideration in Montana, California, Oregon, Texas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma. This week an Illinois lawmaker introduced a bill that would limit the use of drones by law enforcement.
Last Thursday the Missouri House passed HB46, the "Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act."
Missouri Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, told the Associated Press last week that said it was "completely reasonable for citizens to rely on constitutional right for reasonable expectation of privacy." Other state lawmakers expressed concern that such a law would hamper law enforcement use of drones.
The Missouri bill that now heads to the state senate, would prohibit "any person, entity, or state agency from using a manned aircraft, drone or unmanned aircraft to gather evidence or other information relating to criminal conduct or a violation of a statute or regulation except to the extent authorized in a warrant.
"A person, entity, or state agency is prohibited from using a manned aircraft, drone or unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance or observation under the doctrine of open fields of an individual, property owned by an individual, farm, or agricultural industry without the consent of the individual, property owner, farm, or agricultural industry.
"A person, group of persons, entity, or organization, including a journalist, reporter, or news organization, is prohibited from using a drone or other unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance of an individual or property owned by an individual or business without the consent of the individual or property owner.
"The substitute does not prohibit the use of a manned aircraft, drone or unmanned aircraft by a law enforcement agency if the agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action to prevent imminent danger to life is necessary or by a higher education institution conducting certain educational, research, or training programs.
"The use of model aircraft is also not prohibited. Any aggrieved party may obtain relief in a civil action to prevent or remedy a violation of the act. Information obtained or collected in violation of the act cannot be admissible as evidence in a criminal proceeding or in an administrative hearing. The state waives sovereign immunity for any violation resulting from the act."
You can view the bill here, http://www.moga.mo.gov
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