The Drone as Privacy Catalyst

Stanford Law Review Online, Vol. 64, pp. 29-33 (2011)

5 Pages Posted: 16 Oct 2013 Last revised: 30 Jun 2014

See all articles by Ryan Calo

Ryan Calo

University of Washington - School of Law; Stanford University - Law School; Yale Law School

Date Written: December 12, 2011


Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis could describe what a privacy violation looked like: sensational journalists armed with newly developed “instantaneous photographs” splashing pictures of a respectable wedding on the pages of every newspaper. Their influential 1890 article The Right To Privacy crystallized an image of technology-fueled excess, which the authors leveraged to jump-start privacy law in the United States. Today there is no story, no vivid and specific instance of a paradigmatic privacy violation in a digital universe, upon which citizens and lawmakers can premise their concern. The widespread domestic use of drones, however, may help restore our mental model of a privacy violation. They could be just the visceral jolt society needs to drag privacy law into the twenty-first century. The resulting backlash could force us to reexamine not merely the use of drones to observe, but the doctrines that today permit this use.

Keywords: privacy, surveillance, drones

Suggested Citation

Calo, Ryan, The Drone as Privacy Catalyst (December 12, 2011). Stanford Law Review Online, Vol. 64, pp. 29-33 (2011). Available at SSRN:

Ryan Calo (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


Stanford University - Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Yale Law School ( email )

127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States

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