Drone Regulations and Fourth Amendment Rights: The Interaction of State Drone Statutes and the Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
44 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2014
Date Written: 2014
Current federal case law allows observation of property from manned aerial vehicles if they are in publicly navigable airspace. The increasing domestic use of unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”), in addition to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) efforts to develop regulations to integrate drones into national airspace, implicates a number of constitutional and privacy issues. In response, several states are enacting or have already enacted statutes to regulate drone use. This Note discusses how state drone statutes may inform the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and its protection against unreasonable searches by drones. This Note specifically examines whether state drone statutes may influence the Supreme Court’s current understanding of the “reasonable expectation of privacy” when it is inevitably applied in drone surveillance cases.
First, this Note reviews Fourth Amendment jurisprudence regarding surveillance technologies and searches. It then provides a survey of state drone statutes currently in effect, their purposes, and their practical effects on the use of drones by the government and private parties. Next, this Note discusses how state drone statutes may interact with Fourth Amendment jurisprudence and inform the Supreme Court’s understanding of reasonable expectations of privacy in the context of drones. As drone technology develops, state regulations can influence social norms and expectations regarding drone use and the type of information discoverable by drones, while creating a source of protection for privacy interests that is independent of the Fourth Amendment. Furthermore, policy arguments made during the development of state drone regulations will likely be reflected in discussions regarding the legitimation of expectations of privacy against drones. Ultimately, this Note predicts that state drone statutes will likely influence the Court’s understanding of the reasonable expectation of privacy, whether explicitly or implicitly, as drones and their capabilities develop and are regulated.
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