Eleven states say no cop drones E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

At least eleven states are currently considering legislation that would bar police from using UAVs or drones for law enforcement operations. A Nebraska legislative committee recently showed interest in a bill that would keep remote-controlled surveillance drones out of police hands.

The bill by Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus would ban law enforcement agencies from using unmanned aircraft entirely. Schumacher said his bill attempts to impose some control over the use of drones by the legislature.

"The government does not need to have its nose over everybody's farm or in their backyard, just because (technology is there," he told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

Nebraska legislators, like many of those in other the states considering such measures, appear to be concerned about federal agencies like the EPA conducting warrantless surveillance in rural areas that are home to agricultural industries.

Schumacher said that he expects manufacturers will start aggressively marketing the drones to law enforcement agencies which some say is already happening.

Several committee members agreed. Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who represents a high-poverty and minority-heavy district, said he would support the bill "to the hilt" to protect residents from police abuse.

Chambers said police could use the drones to hover outside of windows or over cars, with no probable cause, judicial oversight or even in-house supervision.

"They want to be able to intrude on the personal lives of everyone," Chambers said. Amy Miller, the legal director for ACLU Nebraska, said the Environmental Protection Agency has flown at least seven unmanned drones over rural Nebraska to monitor water-quality. "A drone is even more capable of invading our privacy than a helicopter hovering high above us," Miller said.

"We need (a law) to protect Nebraskans' privacy rights, because the Supreme Court cannot keep up. It will be years before there's a ruling on drones, and we need Nebraska law protections now." In the quick time it took Mrs. Miller to testify, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha used his tablet to find a website that sells drones.

"They're noiseless, they come equipped with a camera, they look like a dragonfly, and you can order one online for $350," Lathrop said. Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis said he was blown away by what technology can do.

He suggested that businesses also could use drones for corporate espionage.

Miller went on to say that under current law, residents can sue if they catch an employer, an ex-spouse or a neighbor spying on them.

But "I think the larger concern is the damage that the government can do," Miller said.

"If the government has information about me, their punishment or weight against me is so much more potentially damaging than what my crazy neighbor does."

At least 11 states are considering plans to place restrictions on the unmanned aerial vehicles for fear that law enforcement could use them to spy on Americans.

Other state legislatures looking at the issue include California, Oregon, Texas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Florida, Virginia, Maine and Oklahoma.

The Department of Homeland Security has also said it's looking into proposals that would give that agency authority over the use of drones by local law enforcement.

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