JEFFERSON CITY - Drones are no longer confined to military operations. As drone technology has evolved and become more accessible to the public, drones, also known as unmanned aircrafts, have found many applications, including police work, journalism and land surveying.
The Missouri House gave preliminary approval to a bill Wednesday that would prohibit surveillance and observation by manned and unmanned aircrafts and would specifically ban media from using drones to gather information from private individuals and businesses. The House heard much debate over the reach of the bill, as three amendments to the bill were adopted that expanded its scope.
Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said he sponsored the bill in order to protect privacy. After learning about drones that had begun flying over farms in Iowa last year, Guernsey proposed the bill in an effort to preempt any actions that might be taken against Missouri citizens' privacy.
Lawmakers expressed concern that the bill would go too far. Rep. Gina Mitten, R-St. Louis County, cited amendments to the bill that would include manned aircrafts and any "person, entity, or state agency" from gathering evidence of criminal conduct.
"My daughter, taking a simple video tape, on a weekend pleasure trip, would be against the law," Mitten said. "Say she’s taken some video and observes a murder occurring…that evidence would not be allowable in a court of law."
Guernsey said that this would not be the case, stating that his interpretation of the bill was different than Mitten's and that the bill would not apply to individuals, but only the government.
The bill would also apply to media, as an amendment proposed by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, would ban journalists, reporters and news organizations from using drones to gain information about private individuals or businesses without consent. However, the bill does not bar media from using drones over public places.
Some argued that the bill as a whole was unnecessary, as satellites and even Google Earth have already invaded citizens' privacy.
"Even without the technology of drones there’s satellite technology…they could take a satellite photo of newspaper print on the ground in Moscow," said Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia. "If you think you have some expectation of privacy from the sky…you’re a little behind technology, right?"
The scope of the bill was called into question again over concerns that it would make flying model airplanes a criminal act.
The bill could have the "unintentional consequence of tying in the model airplane enthusiasts," said Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles. Some model plane builders install a small camera in their plane so that they can "(fly) the aircraft in real time as if they were inside the model aircraft."
Despite these reservations, the House approved the bill as amended, including an amendment to exempt model airplanes.