Missouri lawmakers expand scope of drone bill, exempt model airplanes

Posted April 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm

by Meghan Boggess

The Missouri House voted to add protections against drone aircraft invading private space last week.

The Missouri House passed a bill Thursday, April 4, that would prohibit surveillance and observation by manned and unmanned aircraft and would specifically ban media from using drones to gather information from private individuals and businesses. The House heard extensive debate over the reach of the bill, as three amendments were adopted that expanded its scope.

Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said Wednesday, April 3, that 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.

The bill would also apply to the press, 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 the press from using drones over public places.

A radio station operated at the University of Missouri campus in Columbia, NPR affiliate KBIA, recently received a grant to operate its own drone and has been using it in some journalism classes. The bill includes exemptions from the provisions for educational institutions.

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. Parkinson said 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.”