Unmanned Aerial Exposure: Civil Liability Concerns Arising from Domestic Law Enforcement Employment of Unmanned Aerial Systems
27 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2010 Last revised: 14 Dec 2012
Date Written: December 13, 2012
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have proven their worth on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. UAVs offer a relatively low-cost, low-risk alternative to manned aircraft in the military setting.
The same advantages have led many to see natural applications for UAVs in a domestic setting. Technological advances in communications, control, and optics in recent decades will no doubt increase pressure to introduce UAV systems for a host of domestic applications. In the coming years, law enforcement agencies will seek to use UAVs to police borders, control crowds, track criminals, detect illegal narcotics activities, and spot crime. Other potential civilian uses include mineral and energy exploration, agricultural surveys, communications relay, and wildfire monitoring. The revolution is coming.
Significant administrative and regulatory hurdles will confront policymakers as they seek to integrate UAVs into the domestic airspace system.This Article, a contribution to a symposium on UAVs sponsored by the North Dakota Law Review, explores the narrower issue of civil liability arising from the operation of UAVs by law enforcement authorities. Tort law has a well established body of rules and doctrines dealing with civil liability surrounding traditional aviation. This Article assumes that the legal hurdles to operating UAVs in the national airspace system are surmounted, and then speculates about potential civil liability concerns should things, as they always do, go wrong.
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