Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as remotely piloted aerial vehicles (RPAVs) or drones, have been a tool for military reconnaissance and surveillance since the early 1900s. They are one of many emerging technologies that have broken onto the consumer market. In addition to their appeal on the private market, drone technology serves a practical purpose for law enforcement agencies looking to adopt new and innovative methods of conducting aerial surveillance. However, the use of drones for surveillance has raised questions pertaining to compliance and consistency with federal search and seizure law as outlined by precedent and the Fourth Amendment. Surveillance using drones has yet to be challenged in a federal court on Fourth Amendment grounds, which has left many law enforcement agencies and the public uncertain of their constitutionality. This paper will first examine the holistic and overall constitutionality of law enforcement use of drones for surveillance, as well as provide a set of operating rules for law enforcement agencies looking to implement this new technology. Policy recommendations will be based on United States Supreme Court opinions and precedent established within the last 100 years. Due to the relative infancy of drone technology, these guidelines may serve as a foundation for law enforcement organizations looking to carefully implement drone technology. Further, they may aid law enforcement organizations that have already implemented drone technology who are looking to reform their current activation policies in order to comply with U.S. Supreme Court precedent pertaining to warrantless surveillance and avoid a future constitutional challenge.
"Warrantless Drone Surveillance: Constitutionally Permissible or Prohibited?,"
Paideia: Vol. 5
, Article 14.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/paideia/vol5/iss1/14