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Drones May Set Off A Flurry of Lawsuits

Publication Date: 
February 20, 2012
The New York Times - Bits
Somini Sengupta

Director of Privacy and Robotics at the Center for Internet and Society M. Ryan Calo is quoted in the following New York Times article by Somini Sengupta on the potential Fourth Amendment challenges to allowing the civilian use of drones in the United States.

Opening up the skies to the civilian use of drones in the United States is likely to lead to a number of new questions about surveillance by electronic means.

Unmanned aerial vehicles can not only take photos and videos, they can also spot heat sources, read car license plate numbers, and perhaps soon capture other information about people and things down below.


Drones are different because they do not involve physically attaching a device to someone’s property, and they are not directly affected by the Supreme Court’s opinion. However, said Ryan Calo, a legal scholar, the justices did express concern about the surveillance of individuals by electronic means. For a drone to pick up video of a large public gathering may not invite scrutiny, Mr. Calo said, but it might if a drone captures pictures of particular people at a public protest. He wrote about the legal implications of drones in a recent article.

“It is an interesting signal from the Supreme Court that extensive enough surveillance, even if in public, might trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny,” Mr. Calo said. “The antenna is up.”