Court case challenges warrantless drone flights

According to Just the News, a case which has serious implications for personal privacy is now before the Michigan Supreme Court.

The website reported that justices are being asked to determine whether local authorities may use warrantless drone footage when engaging in bylaw enforcement.

Only three flights made

That’s the subject of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Long Lake Township resident Todd Maxon by a public interest law firm called the Institute for Justice.

Mason repairs automobiles on his five-acre property and was cited in 2007 for storing “junk” there in contravention of local bylaws.

The plaintiff won a lawsuit filed against the township a year later which resulted in $3,000 along with a pledge that authorities would “not to bring further zoning enforcement action against Defendant Maxon based upon the same facts and circumstances which were revealed during the course of discovery … .”

However, Mason was again cited in 2018 after the township paid a drone operator to make three flights over his property during a two-year period.

The lawsuit contends that Mason’s vehicles were not visible from “from any ground-level public vantage point” and that footage collected by the drone flights amounted to an unlawful search.

Safety concerns

Robert Frommer serves as a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, and he said in a statement put out last week that fundamental rights are at stake.

“Americans have a right to be secure in their homes and backyards without being watched by a government drone,” he said.

“The difference between a peeping tom and a lawful investigation is a judicially authorized warrant.” Frommer went on to insist.

Fellow Institute for Justice attorney Mike Greenberg agreed, saying, “If the government wants to conduct intrusive surveillance like this, the Fourth Amendment requires that it get a warrant. The zoning authority’s failure to even try to get one shows their indifference to Michiganders’ constitutional rights.”

For his part, Maxon declared that the issue “is bigger than just some drones flying over my home,” adding, “If I’m not safe from this kind of surveillance, nobody will be.”