By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri proposal to ban spy-in-sky drones drew support from agricultural groups and civil liberties advocates Tuesday, though some lawmakers remained skeptical, calling it an overreaction to futuristic fears of snooping.
The legislation by Rep. Casey Guernsey would outlaw the use of unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance on individuals or property. It would grant an exception only for law enforcement agencies that obtain a warrant.
"It's important for us to prevent Missouri from sliding into a police-type state," said Guernsey, R-Bethany, who is chairman of the House Agri-Business Committee that heard testimony on the bill Tuesday.
The committee could vote on the legislation next week, he said.
Guernsey said his legislation was prompted by concerns over an Environmental Protection Agency initiative that used small airplanes to look for pollution problems at cattle farms in Iowa and Nebraska. The EPA said last summer that it had conducted or planned to make 22 flyovers in Iowa and Nebraska from 2010 through 2012. Agency staffers took photographs of animal waste running into waterways and, as of last summer, had taken more than 50 enforcement actions against livestock farmers as a result of the flights.
Guernsey's bill would not prohibit the EPA flights, because they were not conducted by drone aircraft. Guernsey said in an interview after the hearing that he opted against banning surveillance flights by piloted planes because of complications involving other aircraft laws.
Some colleagues questioned whether the proposed drone ban was overreaching or unnecessary. Among other things, they pointed to a provision in the legislation allowing "any aggrieved party" to file a lawsuit to "obtain all appropriate relief" to prevent or stop surveillance by drone aircraft.
Rep. Steve Hodges questioned who would have legal grounds to sue - anyone who saw a drone in the sky or someone who must specifically prove that the drone flew over his property?
"How far are we going?" Hodges, D-East Prairie, asked.
Guernsey drew support from lobbyists for the American Civil Liberties Union, several agricultural organizations and the Missouri Family Network.
"In general, I don't think we're conspiracy theorists or black helicopter people," said Don Steen, a lobbyist for the Missouri Farm Bureau. But he said organization members recently approved a resolution opposing aerial surveillance except for national security.
Kerry Messer, president of the Missouri Family Network, cited concerns that drones built in people's garages could be used to spy on their neighbors like "peeping Toms" or could be used for "corporate espionage."