Michigan Court Says Government Use of Drones to Search Property Without Warrant Violates Individual's Privacy Right


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Drones have been one of the most disruptive tech inventions of recent times, which have good and bad implications.

From the time these flying objects were made capable of carrying cameras, they have infringed on our privacy more than anybody else.

Paparazzi to the government agencies, everyone uses them to spy on you, and there's always a fear of being watched without our knowledge.

But a recent Michigan court ruling restricts local governments to use drones without a warrant.

The recent court's ruling is a relief to Michigander from being constantly under the threat of being watched from the sky by "Big Brother."

This is a big step in the right direction to protect Michigan residents from inordinate government search and seizures.

At the core of the Fourth Amendment is an individual's right to privacy, including their right not to be a subject of arbitrary government invasions. When government entities want to search a person or their property, they need a warrant.

But, the rise of technology like drones has made it complicated to understand whether the government is "searching" someone's property or merely using the technological resources for administrative uses like monitoring traffic or accidents.

However, all governments should oblige and respect Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

In a recent case hearing between Long Lake Township v. Todd and Heather Maxon, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Long Lake Township should have a valid warrant to inspect the property. In this case, the township used aerial drones to ascertain if property owners violated zoning rules related to illegal junkyards.

The property owners had previously gotten in trouble for violating zoning rules but reached an agreement with the local government.

Shortly after, however, Long Lake Township felt the property owners violated the agreement and the zoning rules by significantly increasing the amount of junk on their property.

The local government again sued the property owners, arguing they violated the zoning rules.

To justify their argument, Long Lake Township provided the court with aerial photos taken over a period of eight years. According to the township, these drone footages proved a massive increase in junk on the property, violating zoning rules. Drones took aerial photographs of the property.

The property owners objected to the drone photos, arguing that the aerial surveillance and photos were illegal searches that violated the Fourth Amendment, and the court agreed.

To help reach its decision, the court reviewed several U.S. Supreme Court cases concerning privacy and the Fourth Amendment. The Michigan court pointed out one case involving thermal imaging. In this case, the Supreme Court had noted that just because technology is advancing does not mean that people do not have reasonable privacy expectations in their own homes.

However, other Supreme Court cases have held that viewing the property from airplanes and helicopters did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

After deliberation, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined the drone issue was similar to the thermal imaging case. It ruled that the Long Lake Township had violated the Fourth Amendment by using a drone to inspect and photograph the property without a warrant or the property owners' permission.

This case ultimately limits the ability of local governmental units to search property by upholding an individual's privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.

While this case addressed the use of drones by government to "search" private property, the ruling may have implications for personal drone use over someone's property and whether such use invades the landowner's "reasonable expectation of privacy."

Private operation of a drone that plagues another's "reasonable expectation of privacy" is prohibited by the Michigan statute, and any violations may put you into trouble.

So be careful when you are recording ground shots while flying your drones, especially if you are in Michigan.

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A writer inspired by his surroundings is what I recognize myself. I get inspiration from everything that happens around me and love to write about it for others to notice. Politics, History, Economy, Technology, and Social Justice are my topics of interest.

Dearborn, MI

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