The Fourth Amendment in the Coming Drone Age

Dartmouth Law Journal, Forthcoming

28 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2016 Last revised: 30 Nov 2016

See all articles by Brooke Hofhenke

Brooke Hofhenke

American University, Washington College of Law, Students

Date Written: December 3, 2015


Drones have exploded in popularity over the last few years for both the general public and law enforcement. They are small and affordable -- often flying in close proximity to private homes and property, recording and storing vast amounts of information, and conducting surveillance for extended period of time. While drones have the capacity to facilitate more efficient monitoring of potential suspects and aid in officer safety, they also raise significant privacy concerns that neither statutory law nor Fourth Amendment law is currently equipped to handle.

This Article tackles the deficiency in both statutory law and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence as it relates to this advanced technology. Specifically, it examines the unique privacy concerns relating to drone use and the lack of helpful legislation in this area. It argues that, due to the invasive nature of drones, the Fourth Amendment’s protections should apply, and a warrant be required, when officers utilize these machines in criminal investigations -- advocating a technology-focused approach to the Fourth Amendment. Further, this Article provides policy recommendations including clear limitations on what data may be collected, how it should be stored, and its later use.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, Privacy, Constitution, Drone, Warrant, Technology, Civil Rights, UAV, Law Enforcement

Suggested Citation

Hofhenke, Brooke, The Fourth Amendment in the Coming Drone Age (December 3, 2015). Dartmouth Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Brooke Hofhenke (Contact Author)

American University, Washington College of Law, Students ( email )

Washington, DC
United States

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