Should the government have to get a warrant before using a drone to spy on your home and backyard? We think so, and in an amicus brief filed last Friday in Long Lake Township v. Maxon, we urged the Michigan Supreme Court to find that warrantless drone surveillance of a home violates the Fourth Amendment.
In this case, Long Lake Township hired private operators to repeatedly fly drones over Todd and Heather Maxon's home to take aerial photos and videos of their property in a zoning investigation. The Township did this without a warrant and then sought to use this documentation in a court case against them. In our brief, we argue that the township's conduct was governed by and violated the Fourth Amendment and the equivalent section of the Michigan Constitution.
The Township argued that the Maxons had no reasonable expectation of privacy based on a series of cases from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s. In those cases, law enforcement used helicopters or small planes to photograph and observe private backyards that were thought to be growing cannabis. The Court found there was no reasonable expectation of privacy—and therefore no Fourth Amendment issue—from aerial surveillance conducted by manned aircraft.