February 8, 2013
Like so much legislation being proposed or passed lately we see the gravitation towards “safe” language within these bills. Just take for example the so-called “anti-NDAA” legislation, HB 57, initially we wrote that it would certainly outlaw indefinite detention of Missouri citizens. In a matter of a week or two, P.A.N.D.A., one of the largest organizations against the NDAA spoke out against it saying that the bill was nothing more than “fluff”. What was their reason for saying such a thing? As Heather Cottner, the Missouri State Coordinator for P.A.N.D.A., explained that the organization’s legal team reviewed the language within the bill and determined that any shrewd politician or lawyer could easily get around what the legislation claims to be outlawing.
This controversy provides the context in how one should view legislation being presented at the local level. With that being said, we should be circumspect about Rep. Casey Guernsey’s HB 46 “Preserving Freedom From Unwarranted Surveillance Act”. In a nutshell his bill only outlaws “unwarranted” spying from any person or State Department and in no way protects citizens from law enforcement. A couple of things come to mind when I read this bill:
- It only seems to outlaw the use of drones against citizens without authorization by a magistrate. In other words, Federal agencies and local police can still use drones against the public as long as they and the magistrate believe there is a just cause. The language in this bill does nothing to protect the citizens from other potential actions that various UAVs are capable of. Furthermore, regarding warrants, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have drastically expanded upon what is deemed as “suspicious activity” thus giving them just cause to target almost anyone for the slightest infraction. Another aspect that should be pondered is that many judges these days don’t resist much when it comes to warrants. Unfortunately, unless it’s something bizarre, the judge will usually side with Feds or the police and issue the authorization.
- This bill could also be used to justify the outlawing of drones for private use amongst hobbyists and farmers. The main reason why this option could be on the table in the future is a simple fact that the Federal agencies and local police have to have warrants to use them. This could lead to the line of thought “if the government needs permission, why not the people?” They could easily create a registry for private UAV owners and like gun registration; the state could regulate who doesn’t get to operate drones according to whatever vague standard they put in place. All the government needs is a few extreme examples of citizens improperly using their drone and legislation or an amendment could be made to restrict or outlaw them all together for the public. Presently, the FAA has little regulation on private use of drones, as long as the UAV is flying under “400 feet”, maintains a “pilot in control”, and stays away from “built up areas”.
- HB 46 creates penalties for illegal UAV usage by Federal agencies and law enforcement. It also makes any evidence obtained illegally inadmissible in court while making it easier to file a lawsuit against violators. Initially it sounds great but my concern would be the lack of provision if the tables were turned and a privately owned drone accidentally violated a law that was originally for the Feds and police. In my opinion if one is going to create a bill, they must give some forethought as to how the language could be utilized by politicians (with less than innocent motives) beyond the original intent. Basically critically look at you own legislation and see if there are any dangerous loopholes.
Clearly Rep. Guernsey believes HB 46 solves the problem of illegal use of drones by big brother. It is apparent by a recent statement when he said, “Without legislation, Missouri could become a police state with overt surveillance as drone technology becomes cheaper.” The Representative sounds great on the surface but again I believe this is another bill that has little protection due to its language and omission of other important issues surrounding drone technology.
Gary Brunk, local executive director for the ACLU, seems to think that the bill is sufficient. He said, “As drones become less expensive, our fear is that the police and other agencies could use them or fishing expeditions that infringe on an individual’s right to privacy…This bill is simply common sense regulation.” As Mr. Brunk’s statement reveals the main focus of the organization on the issue of drones is privacy. A question I would ask is why not work with politicians on the state and Federal levels to create a comprehensive bill that addresses all the issues that apply to drones. Why can’t we have “common sense” laws against using weaponized UAVs for American citizens?
Maybe their angle is to slowly implement these measures throughout several bills so that these issues can be addressed individually so the establishment doesn’t feel threatened. Hopefully this is not one of those deals where lawmakers throw out a bone to satiate activists so they will shut their mouths. If Rep. Guernsey’s motives are pure, then he should consider several options: 1) Tightening up the language in the bill; 2) Amending problematic sections within the bill; or 3) Create new bill altogether that addresses in a more complete manner the potential civil rights violations from the utilization of drones by the state.
I think that it is imperative that Guernsey finishes the job he started and either shores up the current bill he has put forth or scrap HB 46. Regardless of what option is chosen, it should take a tougher stance against drones. The reader may wonder why citizens should not be restricted from using private UAVs, while Federal agencies and police departments should have more regulations in their utilization. The answer is simple; most private citizens that own drones have them for a hobby or are employed for agricultural or environmental tasks. Whereas, the government owns them to further their surveillance grid and create an atmosphere of fear as a method of control. The state’s use of drones is nothing more than aggression while the public’s use is amicable. See the difference?