Warrantless Operations of Public Use Drones: Considerations for Government Agencies
22 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2018
Date Written: 2017
The benefits of drones continue to transform our lives and nowhere is this more apparent than with the use of drones by local governments. While these benefits are tremendous, residents often express privacy concerns and fear of persistent surveillance associated with law enforcement’s deployment of drones. In response, critics have made knee jerk reactions to attempt to apply warrant requirements prior to police use of drones.
Outside of the law enforcement context, civic uses of drones face similar challenges to deployment, so long as government actors must operate under a traditional administrative warrant analysis. This Article advocates that well established aerial surveillance law is applicable to both law enforcement use of drones as well as other public uses of drones. According to well established case law starting with California v. Ciraolo, observations made by law enforcement are allowable sans warrant if they occur in public navigable airspace or from a place where the officer had a right to be. Such an analysis should be applicable to civic uses of drones when determining whether an administrative warrant is required prior to deploying public use drones for code enforcement and other municipal inspections. This Article also explores how government agencies can change negative perceptions of drones in their communities through adoption of proper policies and procedures.
Keywords: drones, privacy, warrants, surveillance, unmanned aircraft, surveillance technology
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