Law enforcement, privacy in aerial dogfight

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Smile, you're on camera.

Even in small town rural Nebraska, it's hard to go anywhere without having your movement electronically observed, whether to the store, bank, school or even church.

That list apparently now includes the feedlot.

Nebraska's congressional delegation has sent a letter to the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency concerning aerial surveillance inspections of regulated livestock operations in Nebraska.

It seems the EPA's Region 7 Office of Enforcement has conducted a series of such flights in the past several months to enforce the Clean Water Act.

The letter raises some legitimate concerns.

Such as:

* Are the flights strictly to enforce that law?

Does the agency follow up with on-the-ground inspection?

* How many flights are involved, and how does the agency decide which operations to fly over?

* How long has this been going on, and how has the information been used? Is it video or still images, and what happens to it?

* Are local agencies informed, such as the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, which may be doing its own inspections?

* What else is being photographed?

[The following two paragraphs are revised to correct attribution:]

"As you might imagine, this practice has resulted in privacy concerns among our constituents and raises several questions," according to the letter.

As U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith noted in a "These operations are in many cases near homes and landowners deserve legitimate justification given the sensitivity of the information gathered by the flyovers. Nebraskans are rightfully skeptical of an agency which continues to unilaterally insert itself into the affairs of rural America."

On the other hand, many of those same agricultural interests have no problem accepting aerial "surveillance" when it's part of a farm subsidy program. Law enforcement has long used aircraft for everything from catching speeders to busting marijuana growing operations.

Real estate agents, Smith's background, use satellite imagery and Internet mapping -- even with ground-level views -- extensively.

Still, there's something ominous about Big Brother spying on our back yards, especially this time of year when we all enjoy outdoor activities.

As aerial surveillance becomes more and more accessible to private and public entities through technology like drones, the right to privacy must be carefully guarded and balanced with the legitimate needs of law enforcement.

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  • Thank you for the article.

    The more freedoms we give away, or allow to be taken, the less free we will be, with an end result in there being no freedom to be had.

    -- Posted by Navyblue on Thu, May 31, 2012, at 4:14 PM
  • As a real estate agent, I'm not convinced that we use satellite imagery extensively. Typically I get a better picture from the Multiple Listing Service than what a ground-level view on say google maps provides.

    I do use internet mapping programs extensively to get me near my destination. but that's out of convenience more than anything. Lot faster to type a destination in and have pop up rather than try to figure out where the house is via a paper map.

    -- Posted by npwinder on Thu, May 31, 2012, at 7:54 PM
  • I might apply the same sort of logic that was presented to those who opposed the surveillance provisions of the Patriot act. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Real time information regarding compliance is critical to determining threats to the health of people and the environment. What is it feedlot operators fear?

    -- Posted by davis_x_machina on Mon, Jun 4, 2012, at 8:16 AM
  • When governments become paranoid, everyone has something to fear.

    -- Posted by bbens on Mon, Jun 4, 2012, at 5:18 PM
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