The EFF has filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Supreme Court in the Long Lake Township v. Maxon case, urging the court to restrict warrantless drone surveillance, which they argue violates the Fourth Amendment and the Michigan Constitution. The EFF countered this argument, emphasizing the unique capabilities of drones to silently gather extensive data at low costs and access spaces unreachable by traditional aircraft, thereby posing a more severe infringement on personal privacy rights.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation EFF has urged  [SEP 2023] the Michigan Supreme Court to restrict warrantless drone surveillance. In the Long Lake Township v. Maxon case, the township utilized drones for aerial surveillance of the Maxon’s property without a warrant. The EFF argues this violated the Fourth Amendment and the Michigan Constitution. They filed an amicus brief last Friday, emphasizing the necessity for warrants in drone operations to protect citizens’ privacy rights.


The township justified its actions citing U.S. Supreme Court rulings from the 1980s. These rulings stated there was no reasonable expectation of privacy from aerial surveillance conducted by manned aircraft. The court had allowed law enforcement to use helicopters or small planes to observe private properties suspected of illegal activities. The township applied this rationale to the use of drones, arguing the Maxons had no reasonable expectation of privacy.


However, the EFF counters that drones are fundamentally different from other aircraft. They highlight that drones can gather extensive data silently and at a lower cost. Drones can also access spaces that are typically unreachable by helicopters and planes, offering an unprecedented level of surveillance capabilities. The EFF insists that the quiet and unnoticeable nature of drones eliminates the natural alert to individuals that a manned aircraft provides, thus infringing on personal privacy rights more severely.


The EFF notes the rapid increase in drone usage by over 1,471 law enforcement agencies nationwide. They warn that communities of color are more frequently targeted by governmental surveillance initiatives. Several states have already enacted laws requiring warrants for police drone use, recognizing the potential privacy violations. The EFF emphasizes the urgent need for courts to acknowledge the substantial threat warrantless drone surveillance poses to Fourth Amendment rights.

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