Drones over Arizona, are you being watched?
Drones are unmanned aerial craft capable of observation and sometimes offense for scientific, military and commercial purposes. Increasingly affordable, drone technology is owned and used around the world for a wide variety of purposes. Several drone models are tiny craft that are hard to spot and may be flying overhead in Arizona as we speak. A drone can be used to observe private activities in a backyard or thru an uncovered 2nd story window, violating long standing expectations of privacy. When can you be observed and how can you protect yourself?
Currently a warrant is not necessary for police or other officials to use a drone to monitor your activities in Arizona. Both audio and video recordings of your activities may be collected and stored by a drone and so far seems to be accepted by the court system. A drone can perform many activities that would require a warrant if a human officer were to follow and observe you, capable of maneuvering thru opening from a garage door to an open window. Electronic surveillance is getting more common in Arizona such as a recent case involving a fake cell tower used to collect data by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office . The ACLU has filed freedom of information act requests with several agencies to try to determine when drones are being used overhead and what data is being collected.
2013 saw a bill introduced to require a search warrant for law enforcement to use a drone to collect evidence in Arizona, HB 2574. The bill died in committee, meaning no Arizona law currently on the books requires a search warrant or regulates private drone use.
Corporations may also purchase and use drones to collect data in Arizona. Drones are likely to provide a number of research uses. Concerns have been raised about the idea of media using drones ability to fly and film without respect to private property lines such as fences-politicians, CEO’s and celebrities may have to lock themselves away in closed rooms for fear of embarrassing videos. Corporate blackmail and collection of data about private habits may be another concern, what could a debt collector do with a drone to follow a debtor.
Private individuals purchasing and using drones is another concern. One issue may be a lack of required training, do you trust your neighbor not to crash a drone into your roof? Other concerns involve use by peeping Toms or stalkers who could monitor your activities discreetly.
Everything we think about privacy and freedom of movement are likely to change if drone use becomes widespread with no legal protections. The 4th Amendment protects your right to privacy from unreasonable search. Whether courts would consider this a protection from electronic surveillance via a drone has not been tested. One Colorado town that considers drones over their skies a violation of their rights will vote this October on whether to allow citizens to shoot down drones with officially issued hunting permits.
Mike Shipley one of the organizers of the March against Drones on Sept 11th in Phoenix stated "An electronic device is an extension of the human senses. It performs the same functions as eyes and ears, only from a distance. The information it collects is nonsensical if it is not perceived by a human. So it must be subject to the same legal limitations. It is, in practice, identical to the physical presence of a human."