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AmazonGlobal Ship Orders Internationally. The use of UAVs by government agents or private individuals may also be constrained by statute. Currently, there is no specific statutory restraint on UAV use in Connecticut. At least 16 states have adopted laws specifically addressing UAVs. While the Federal Aviation Administration FAA is currently drafting regulations to govern the domestic use of UAVs, the agency has stated the regulations will not address privacy concerns. According to the agency, its obligation to regulate UAVs does not include developing or enforcing policies concerning privacy or civil liberties issues.

The policy includes requirements to: In the past eight months, there have been several reported instances of UAV use in Connecticut demonstrating the potential privacy implications of UAVs. In January, the Branford Fire Department used a UAV owned by a volunteer firefighter to determine whether it was safe to send firefighters into an area where a fire was threatening to spread into an explosives storage area.


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Following this success, the department acquired its own drone, which it later used to locate a missing puppy in a swamp. In February, Hartford police noticed a drone hovering over the scene of a fatal car accident. The UAV was owned and operated by an off-duty freelance journalist. The FAA is currently investigating this incident because current federal rules prohibit commercial use of UAVs domestically. In September, the Stamford Advocate reported real estate agents in Fairfield County are already using UAV-produced aerial photography to market high-end homes.

Domestic Drone Surveillance, Privacy, Property, 4th Amendment, Questions

To obtain a search warrant, law enforcement officers must show there is probable cause to believe that sought-after evidence is present at the place to be searched. The warrant request must describe with particularity the place to be searched and the items sought. Searches that go beyond the place and items described in the warrant may be unconstitutional. But not all searches are subject to the Fourth Amendment protections. For Fourth Amendment purposes, a search occurs when a governmental agent infringes a person ' s reasonable expectation of privacy.

This can include physical searches as well as surveillance.

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But Fourth Amendment protections are not absolute. Courts have upheld warrantless surveillance of private property conducted from public areas with a view of the private property. Because of the uncertainty of how UAVs will be used domestically and how they will interact with the Fourth Amendment, it is helpful to consider cases where searches were conducted from aircraft flying over private property and where police used technological aids to track suspects. Supreme Court has considered at least three cases that may be instructive on how courts will treat flyover searches conducted using UAVs.

The Court was guided by the general proposition that government agents are not conducting a Fourth Amendment search requiring a warrant when they view whatever may be seen from a public vantage point where the police have a right to be. In these cases, the Court found importance in the fact that police were making their aerial observations from altitudes permitted by FAA regulations and were making naked-eye observations or observations using common technology.

However, the Court has made clear that while the altitude from which police make observations is an important factor, it is not determinative. Ciralolo , U. The yard was not visible from the public streets, so police used a fixed-wing aircraft to fly over the home. Although the officers flew at a low altitude, they were within the altitude limits set by FAA regulations and could identify marijuana plants with the naked eye. The Court ruled this was not a search that required a warrant under the Fourth Amendment because the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his backyard being viewed from the regulated altitude, much the same way there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a backyard viewable from a public street.

Essentially, the backyard was within the public view for anyone flying over the subject property. Similarly, in Florida v. Riley , U.

Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses

The officers, unable to see into the greenhouse from public streets, used a helicopter to hover over it. From an altitude of feet, the officers could identify marijuana plants growing in the greenhouse through holes in the roof with naked-eye observations. The Court, finding this case to be controlled by Ciralolo, ruled this was not a search that required a warrant under the Fourth Amendment.

Although the observation altitude was lower than the regulated altitude for fixed-wing aircraft, the FAA permits helicopters to fly below that limit and therefore the greenhouse would have been readily viewable to any member of the public flying over in a helicopter at that height. Moreover, the Court noted that such low-altitude helicopter flights are not unusual in the United States. The Court noted that not all warrantless aerial searches of the area around a home would be legal simply because the aircraft was flying within legal altitude restrictions.

But the Court did not specify the conditions under which such aerial searches would be unconstitutional. In the third case, Dow Chemical v. United States , U. EPA hired a commercial aerial photographer to fly over the plant taking photographs of the open areas around the plant and between its buildings with a standard precision aerial mapping camera. The court held that the open areas of an industrial facility are not subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections as the curtilage around a home and, on the basis of Ciralolo , the government does not necessarily violate the Fourth Amendment by viewing private property from navigable public airspace.

Unlike in Ciralolo and Riley , the government made its observations with technological aids rather than naked-eye observations.

The use of a sensory device that was publically and commonly available to augment human observations did not render the aerial search impermissible. Together, these cases suggest the police may be able to use UAVs to conduct warrantless aerial searches of areas surrounding homes and businesses that are readily viewable from navigable public airspace. Riley and Dow Chemical both indicate there may be limits to warrantless aerial searches that would be relevant to government use of UAVs.

Riley stated that not all aerial searches would be legal simply because they are conducted from within the legally designated navigable airspace. In Dow Chemical , the court found it meaningful that the camera used in the aerial search was one that was publically and commonly available. This suggests the government could conduct warrantless aerial searches similar to the searches in these three cases so long as the UAV is not employing cameras or other devices that are unusual and not available to the general public.

Depending on how common private UAV use becomes, it could be argued the use of a UAV itself is the use of an unusual technology that is not readily available to the public. Despite these remaining ambiguities in the Supreme Court ' s aerial search cases, other Fourth Amendment cases suggest specific technology some UAVs are known to carry could transform an aerial search by UAV into an impermissible warrantless search.

Supreme Court held the government could not, without a warrant, use technology that is not in general public use to gather information about the inside of a home where such information otherwise could not be obtained except by entering the home.

Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses

Some UAVs are known to carry thermal imaging cameras and similar devices. Presumably Kyllo prohibits the government from using a UAV armed with such technology that is not in general public use to peer through the walls of a private home. UAVs are expected to be used by law enforcement to aid in tracking suspects. The ability of these devices to stay aloft for extended periods and surreptitiously monitor individuals from above would make them a powerful tool for such purposes.

Supreme Court cases suggest such UAV tracking in public places likely would not require a warrant for short periods, but may require a warrant for tracking over an extended time. In United States v.

Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations: Fourth Amendment Implications and Legislative Responses

Knotts , U. Police planted a radio transmitter in a container of suspected illicit drug precursors that an informant then gave to the suspect. The signal was used to follow the suspect to a remote cabin where a drug lab was later discovered during a warranted search. The court reasoned that a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her movements on public streets and highways.

Karo , U. Officers followed the signal to the homes of various suspects and storage facilities and used the signal to track the movements and location of the materials within these buildings. The Court again stated the officers did not need a warrant to track the suspects ' movements on public streets, but when the transmitter was used to track movements within private buildings, the tracking became a search subject to the Fourth Amendment.

In the final case, United States v.