Use of Drones in Orange County, California

February 13, 2013

Drones are unmanned flying platforms. From these flying vehicles missiles can be launched, cameras installed so they are aerial surveillance vehicles, and listening devices activated. Developed for the battlefield, they are deadly when used against targets while not endangering their human pilots. The drones are controlled remotely from across the ocean or across the street. The issue for the United States is going to be: are they to be used by law enforcement in this country for surveillance and searches without a search warrant.

Traditionally, a search warrant must be obtained before the area where one has a legitimate expectation of privacy is searched by law enforcement. Probable cause must be established to a judge's satisfaction that a crime has been committed, is being committed, and that evidence of the crime will be found in the area to be searched. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution forbids unreasonable searches and seizures. What happens when a drone as small as a hummingbird is used by law enforcement to perch outside your bedroom window and transport video back to the handlers at headquarters?

In the last decade the protections of the Fourth Amendment have been eroded until they seem to be non- existent. Checkpoints are allowed for all types of potential crimes from driving on a suspended license to driving while under the influence. Motorists are stopped, questioned and detained without a shred of probable cause yet the courts have said such governmental intrusions don't violate the citizenry's right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

What will the Supreme Court do when a bird size drone flies into the window of a house, takes video of the interior, and it shows evidence of a murder. Will the Court throw out the murder conviction because the drone's handlers acted without a warrant? The worse the case that goes up on appeal the worse the law is that results. Americans shouldn't give up their liberties, including those under the Fourth Amendment, without putting up strong resistance. The ends do not justify the means. Drones may be appropriate on the battlefield but they shouldn't be part of the local police force since the danger of misuse and abuse it all too apparent.