EPA Using Drones To Keep An Eye On Ranchers
I’m conflicted about the new and growing use of drones for domestic law enforcement efforts. On one hand, people have always been allowed to fly over our property and take a look. We could take comfort in the fact that flying airplanes or helicopters around wasn’t a very efficient way to do surveillance (neither, for that matter, is satellite surveillance). But drones have made such surveillance a whole lot easier and cost effective, and that’s a little unnerving.
So it’s not surprising that Nebraska cattle ranchers are upset about the use of drones to spy on their property.
The two-page letter was written at the urging of the Nebraska Cattlemen, an industry group made up of cattle producers.
“The frustration for livestock producers really is just the idea that the government has resorted to spying on facilities,” said Kristen Hassebrook, the group’s director of natural resources and environmental affairs.
The EPA apparently started conducting the Nebraska flights in 2010. During a follow-up inspection in Nebraska, a livestock producer was shown aerial photographs of his property, which he questioned, Hassebrook said.
In March, EPA representatives hosted a meeting in West Point, Neb., where they described the flyovers. Hassebrook, who attended the meeting, said about 125 cattle producers were present and many raised concerns.
“It got heated,” she said. “The meeting started at 6:30 (p.m.), and I don’t think anybody left until it ended at 10.”
Among the questions posed by the congressional delegation’s letter: How many flyovers have been conducted? What are the criteria to identify an operation for surveillance? Have the flyovers resulted in fines against producers? Are the photographs shared with other agencies or individuals?
The letter also posed a much broader question: “On what statutory authority is the EPA relying to conduct aerial surveillance inspections?”
“Given EPA’s recent track record of aggressive and over-reaching agriculture regulation, these surveillance flights raise a lot of questions,” Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said in a statement.
The 4th amendment reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
The question is, does a drone flying over our property and taking pictures violate our right to be secure on our property? Is a drone taking aerial photography an unreasonable search? Given, again, that helicopter and airplane fly-overs have been allowed in the past, I’m afraid the precedent is set.
Drones may quickly be becoming a fact of life for us, whether we like it or not.Tags: drones, epa, privacy