The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. It was introduced as a response to the abuse of the Writ of Assistance, a general purpose warrant issued by the British Government and a serious source of tension in pre-revolutionary America. Under the Fourth Amendment guidelines, warrants must be issued after probable cause is produced by the authorities seeking it.

Unfortunately, traditional search warrants do not always work with drones. While the federal government uses unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for military purposes, states and local authorities have been using them for surveillance purposes. Drone technology now allows for cameras, scanning devices, and some can even hack into Wi-Fi from airspace. This ability seriously tests the limits of traditional search warrants and becomes a threat to privacy concerns of citizens who may not be the subjects of a warrant.

According to the ABA (American Bar Association) Journal, more than 20 states have passed laws to regulate the use of drones for surveillance purposes. As expected, some laws are very restrictive while others are quite expansive. Most enacted laws allow for surveillance as long as a warrant is previously obtained.

State laws should be examined against the backdrop of a Supreme Court case decided in 1989 –decades before the drones came onto center stage. The Court decided then that aerial surveillance using low flying aircraft did not require a warrant or probable cause. The Court did not feel this surveillance was a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. If the US Supreme Court expands this reasoning to encompass drones, then there will be a clear conflict with at least some State enacted laws.

Privacy is also of serious concern. While the US Constitution does not contain an expressed right to privacy, it is implied in the Bill of Rights – and mostly applied through the Fourth Amendment. With a drones’ ability to spy on innocent citizens comes the obligation of States to regulate the use of these vehicles. In our neck of the woods, Texas is one of the states that limits the use of drones unless a warrant is secured.

Louisiana and Mississippi have no drone laws to date.