by Andrew Weil

Citizens and state government agencies would not be allowed to use unmanned drones to pry into the lives of Missourians, under a measure heard by a House Agri-business Committee Tuesday, Feb. 5.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, would only permit the use of drones for surveillance with a warrant.

Several farming organizations in the state as well as the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union voiced their support for the measure. Guernsey said he plans to change some provisions of this legislation to ensure it doesn’t outlaw business use of drones, particularly for farming.

But the ban could have a impact on a Columbia NPR affiliate, KBIA/91.3 FM. The station is operated at the University of Missouri’s flagship campus and recently received a grant to operate its own drone.

In response, Guernsey said after the hearing that he doesn’t want to create problems for education and has no problem with the students learning about drone technology; however, he is concerned about them using it for news-gathering.

“If we’re moving into an age of news agencies using drones to collect information on private citizens, I’m definitely concerned about that,” Guernsey said.

KBIA’s content director, Scott Pham, was at the hearing but didn’t testify one way or another. After the hearing, however, Pham told Guernsey the drone is different than a military drone in that it can stay in the air no more than 14 minutes. He also said the station doesn’t use the drone over any land without permission from the owner.

“I’m in public radio, you know, we’re not chasing down ambulances, we’re not looking for criminals or scandals or something, we’re telling these big deep stories that seek to explain,” Pham said.

The Associated Press reported that a total of nine states have currently proposed limiting the use of drones by police.