Republican legislator calls for ban on surveillance of private property by wildlife department

Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, said he's recieved several calls from constituents concerned they may find a camera set up on their property without their consent. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A Republican member of the Kansas House is pushing to strip the right of certain government agencies to surveil private property without the landowner’s consent.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Ken Corbet, R-Topeka, would make it illegal for any employee of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism or a county weed supervisor to conduct surveillance on private property without a warrant. Surveillance can mean either a physical or electronic presence to collect information for enforcement of Kansas laws.

The bill arose after several constituents called to express concerns about KDWPT being able to come onto their private property and install surveillance, Corbet said.

“I think it’s a fairly simple request,” Corbet said. “Nobody’s trying to protect bad people or limit the departments. It’s just as a property owner you should have the right to who’s on your property.”

Corbet said KDWPT is legally allowed to install cameras or tracking devices on private property without the property owner’s consent. He said the department may place cameras on utility poles if they aren’t on the property.

Nadia Reimer, a spokeswoman for KDWPT, said the agency had yet to review the bill and therefore declined to comment on the proposed law. The agency did not respond to a request for comment on the department’s use of surveillance.

Corbet pointed to a similar instance in Tennessee where a farmer and his neighbor alleged they came home to find cameras on each of their farms, one pointing out to a field and one at the house they lived in. This instance led to a lawsuit against the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, or TWRA.

The case is currently being litigated in court after the TWRA’s petition to have the case dismissed was rejected.

Corbet said it is a matter of a level playing field for all agencies enforcing the law.

“I’m not saying anyone is being abused,” Corbet said. “I’m just saying that if they need to come on to private property, they should follow the same rules as any other agencies.”

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, although Corbet said it would be better suited for the House Federal and State Affairs committee as a matter of personal liberties. For now, the bill will be reviewed by a panel of legislators led by Rep. Ken Rahjes, an Agra Republican.

Rahjes said he had yet to examine the bill but was curious to learn what sparked the need for this legislation.

“I’m a little concerned that they would have surveillance and for what reason?” Rahjes said. “A landowner may buy a piece of property for hunting or fishing or other things and somebody in the government is surveilling them, I think that’s something we need to figure out.”

Rahjes said the bill would get attention if the committee has the time but that patience would be key this session. 

Like Rahjes, Rep. Jason Probst, the ranking minority member of the House agriculture committee, had yet to look over the bill in detail. Probst said he was most interested to hear from KDWPT about the reasons they might use surveillance.

“I can see a couple different sides of it. If you have private property, it comes with the private enjoyment of that property without the idea there is going to be surveillance on it,” Probst said. “On the other hand, if we have areas where we know there is poaching, then you have that conflict.”