Aerial Surveillance by Police Could Face Restrictions

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JEFFERSON CITY - A bill passed in the Missouri House Thursday morning would limit the amount of information police or a news crew could gather by helicopter or airplane.

The bill prohibits anyone from using manned or unmanned aircraft to gather information about criminal conduct without a warrant or to observe agricultural operations without the property owner's consent. It also prevents journalists from using aircraft to watch someone or their property without their consent.

Bill sponsors said it would not apply to instances where someone's life was in imminent danger. And would not include higher education institutions using aerial surveillance for educational, research or training reasons. In addition, the bill does not prohibit the use of model aircraft.

The bill originally only applied to drones but was amended Wednesday to include manned aircraft. Representatives from both parties expressed some concern this expansion went too far. Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, and Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, both said the bill could hamper law-enforcement efforts. Roorda called the bill, "an anti-police, pro-crime bill" and accused bill sponsor Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, of creating a reasonable right to privacy in open fields where none currently exists.

Rep. Guernsey said his bill would not affect law enforcement and does not create any new privacy expectations. He said the bill was absolutely necessary, citing federal drone surveillance of farms in Iowa and Nebraska during the summer of 2012. Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said the bill was a natural expansion of the federal Wiretap Act, which regulates how electronic communications can be intercepted.

Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. Tim Hull told KOMU 8 News the patrol does not operate any drones and would comply with whatever legislation came out of the general assembly, but refused to comment further.

Aerial Surveillance Bill