Domestic use of aerial drones by law enforcement likely to prompt privacy debate
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 12:56 AM
But when drones come to perch in numbers over American communities, they will drive fresh debates about the boundaries of privacy. The sheer power of some of the cameras that can be mounted on them is likely to bring fresh search-and-seizure cases before the courts, and concern about the technology’s potential misuse could unsettle the public….
Overseas, the drones have drawn interest as well. A consortium of police departments in Britain is developing plans to use them to monitor the roads, watch public events such as protests, and conduct covert urban surveillance, according to the Guardian newspaper. Senior British police officials would like the machines to be in the air in time for the 2012 Olympics in London….
In a 1986 Supreme Court case, justices were asked whether a police department violated constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure after it flew a small plane above the back yard of a man suspected of growing marijuana. The court ruled that “the Fourth Amendment simply does not require the police traveling in the public airways at this altitude to obtain a warrant in order to observe what is visible to the naked eye.”…
In a 2001 case, however, also involving a search for marijuana, the court was more skeptical of police tactics. It ruled that an Oregon police department conducted an illegal search when it used a thermal imaging device to detect heat coming from the home of an man suspected of growing marijuana indoors….
(these excerpts are taken from the attached link. Some precedent case information is here that some may want to hold onto for future reference)