Neb. lawmakers consider banning police dronesA Nebraska legislative committee showed strong interest Thursday in a bill that would keep remote-controlled surveillance drones out of police hands.
By: By Grant Schulte, Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
LINCOLN, Neb. — A Nebraska legislative committee showed strong interest Thursday 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. Schumacher said his bill attempts to impose some state control over aerial spyware that has become smaller, cheaper and more sophisticated.
“The government does not need to have its nose over everybody’s farm or in their backyard, just because (the technology) is there,” he told the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
Schumacher, a former county attorney, said lawmakers may want to consider exceptions for legitimate uses, such as search-and-rescue missions that don’t violate personal privacy. He said he expects manufacturers will start aggressively marketing the drones to law enforcement agencies.
Several committee members agreed that the drones create a privacy threat. 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.
“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. Miller pointed to a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida v. Riley, in which police used a helicopter to confirm that a man was growing marijuana inside a greenhouse. The high court found no civil-rights violation, because the helicopter didn’t create any undue noise, dust, or threat of injury.
“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.”
Schumacher said he introduced the measure after a constituent contacted him. But some lawmakers noted that stalkers or peeping toms could use drones as well. Chambers said insurance companies might use them to try to catch recipients committing fraud.