MaidensGator
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Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:09 am

Palm Bay, Florida police want to use a model plane loaded with cameras to scout out crime. The FAA has said it may not be legal.

http://www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbc...cle?AID=/20070204/NEWS01/702040341

Any comments on this?
The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
 
kbfispotter
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:16 am

I agree with the AOPA and FAA on this one... If the city wants to fly this thing, equip it with a mode S transponder and require them to file a NOTAM whenever they want to fly it... Even though it is like a RC plane, it is not the same... with RC planes, the pilot is basically always in eye contact with his plane, and that is not the case here...

If Palm Bay wants to fly this thing, they need to make sure it will appear on radar screens and to aircraft with TCAS. I used to live in the area (Merritt Island) and know that that part of Florida is fairly congested when it comes to aircraft and helicopters. They need to get permission

Kris
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flyf15
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:19 am

We cannot have uncontrolled (by the FAA, that is) aircraft flying around the national airspace system no matter what their size or purpose. The FAA has full authority and responsbility to guarentee seperation of aircraft in the air... all of them. Unless the police and FAA can come up with guidelines for this aircraft to be operated under (the police must know their restrictions... where they can fly it, how high, how they must inform the FAA of operations, etc), they shouldn't be allowed to do it at all. I'd hate to be flying my Cessna around and hit one with my windshield... that could cause a fatal crash. Or, even better, say I'm flying my CRJ around and I suck one into an engine just after takeoff... that'd be great.

I know there are some uncontrolled aircraft in the system... from RC airplanes to tethered balloons at car dealerships. These all fall under and are operated within existing restrictions. The police need to be able to assure the FAA that they can operate their aircraft under these restrictions as well, or come up with a workable solution that both parties are happy with. But, in the meantime, this police department really needs to realize that they are messing with a much more powerful orgranization (the FAA) than their little podunk police department and they need to comply. They may be the law enforcement authority on the ground, but they don't control the sky.

[Edited 2007-02-05 00:21:38]
 
avt007
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Mon Feb 05, 2007 8:54 am

Good luck putting a transponder on that thing. It doesn't look like it could carry anymore payload than what it's got.
 
necigrad
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Mon Feb 05, 2007 1:29 pm

Even the military UAVs require a spotter. The only way they get around it is the military can get a TFR. A police department might be able to get the TFR with advanced notice, but it'll take all of two mission for them to figure out the TFR thing and then they'll start looking for TFRs. At some point UAVs will have an autonomous "see and avoid". Right now any system that's out there still has to be monitored. The technology is far from perfect.
 
lincoln
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:23 pm

I have so many issues with this... most of them are emotional (e.g. "Big Brother) and therefore have no basis in the law, but the more practical ones

First of all, I'd love to see how a court construes Art. 1, Sec. 23 of the Florida Constitution ("Right of privacy.--Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person's private life except as otherwise provided herein.") -- I personally find it very hard to beleive that an aircraft flying over my property is "let alone" or "free from government intrusion".

I would think there are also potential US constitution ramifications (US Const. 4th ammendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...")

The reasonableness of having what ammounts to a UAV randomly flying across broad swaths of a county on the off chance that it might find something can certainly be questioned; I supose this would be mitigated if it's flight path (and what it's cameras were observing) was limited to public rights of way.

Not related to the FAA at all, but the FCC - If the thing is able to operate at any kind of meaningful distance away from its operators there's a better than decent chance that the frequencies it's using (and the powers that its using them at) require licensure.

The risk of loss of control (due to temporary interuption of communication, interference, or whathaveyou) is also concerning.

I'm having a hard time making heads or tails of the FARs (14 CFR) and the AIM tonight, and I'm tired, so I can't figure out if it would be exempt from the requirements because of the proposed altitued (400') or if it would automatically be in violation because the minimum is 1000' "above the highest obstacle within a horizontal distance of 4 nautical miles from the course to be flown"

I do think, though, that even if the 1000' minimum was inapplicable to this particular aircraft, it would go along way to getting any evidence obtained by the drone tossed out -- after all, if it can be observed by the naked eye the right to privacy may not attach, but if this drone is flying somewhere that the "naked eye" can't... (And how would you feel about a Cessna flying over your house at 400' with some guy hanging out a window and looking in your back yard?)

Just in case anyone was wondering, 14 CFR §1.1 defines "aircraft" as "a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air" so this UAV is legally an aircraft for purposes of regulation if anyone was unsure about that.

Very interesting question, though...

Lincoln
[NAL]
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necigrad
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 12:38 am

This does not affect your 4th Ammendment rights. Anything that is publically viewable is fair game. You also can't complain that it's violating your rights by flying over your property. The sky is considered the National Airspace System, and not yours.

What does seem to be on the right track was the FARs, and what the UAV is.

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 5):
Just in case anyone was wondering, 14 CFR §1.1 defines "aircraft" as "a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air" so this UAV is legally an aircraft for purposes of regulation if anyone was unsure about that.

Pretty straight forward. Or is it? By that definition, a model airplane, a PAPER airplane, and even a kite is an aircraft. How may 6 year olds do you know with pilots licenses for their kite? The fact that you don't need a license for RC planes or kites leads me to believe that there is a "spirit of the law" in that definition, and thus might not apply to all it defines. I was also going to say that there is likely more to the definition, but I looked, and you got the entire thing verbatim. I'm reasonably certain that there is an intent of the law, and that factors into the definition as well.

Thinking about this issue now, I have a feeling the FARs will wind up being adjusted in the next several years. The definition of an aircraft was defined long ago, in a time where a small aircraft was an ultralight, or possibly even before that. Hang gliders don't require pilots, clearances, attitude indicators, or the like. But they meet the aircraft definition. If the definition doesn't get modified, I forsee a likely logic applied. "Any aircraft intended for (or possibly capable of) flight at an altitude in excess of 500 feet (chosen as the lowest required clearance altitude) shall be considered an aircraft for the purposes of this definition.
 
Analog
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 5:32 am

Quoting Necigrad (Reply 6):
This does not affect your 4th Ammendment rights. Anything that is publically viewable is fair game. You also can't complain that it's violating your rights by flying over your property. The sky is considered the National Airspace System, and not yours.

If it has an IR camera, then it does violate your 4th Amendment rights, or so says the SCOTUS. IIRC, I don't remember the specific case, but it was a drug conviction based on IR images of a home that was thrown out because there was no warrant to "search" the home using IR.
 
gigneil
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 5:53 am

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 5):
I personally find it very hard to beleive that an aircraft flying over my property is "let alone" or "free from government intrusion".



Quoting Lincoln (Reply 5):
Not related to the FAA at all, but the FCC - If the thing is able to operate at any kind of meaningful distance away from its operators there's a better than decent chance that the frequencies it's using (and the powers that its using them at) require licensure.



Quoting Necigrad (Reply 6):
You also can't complain that it's violating your rights by flying over your property.

Yes and no to all these things.

If its overflying public property, that's well and good and should be allowed.

If it is inspecting people's backyards, that is an issue. 400 feet above my house is still my air and not the public's.

As far as licensing the freqs, public safety orgs have a very easy time doing that. Practically no effort required.

NS
 
bond007
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:39 am

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 5):
I personally find it very hard to beleive that an aircraft flying over my property is "let alone" or "free from government intrusion".

OK, but you lost that argument many years ago when the first satellite was taking pictures of you .... now there are hundreds we know of, and hundreds we have no idea about.


Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
MDorBust
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 6:49 am

Quoting Gigneil (Reply 8):
If its overflying public property, that's well and good and should be allowed.

If it is inspecting people's backyards, that is an issue.

No it's not an issue, even flying over your backyard.

The police have the right to observe you from any place that a normal citizen might be legally. A normal citizen might overfly your house, therefore so can the police.

Odd that some people seem to forget that the police already do that.


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Thermal imaging devices can be a breach of your rights, IF they are used to view intrusivly. That is, if the image they are viewing would normally not be able to be viewed by other means. So no, they can't use them to find the heat lamps growing pot in your garage, but they can use them to find you standing in your backyard.
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lincoln
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 7:52 am

Quoting Necigrad (Reply 6):
Anything that is publically viewable is fair game

I think the crux of the issue (and there may not be case law to back my opinion up -- this is just my opinion) is what would a member of the public be able to view?

If I have a 6' cinderblock fence around my back yard, and if indeed pilots are required to remain at least 1000' above the tallest obstruction within 4 NM, an drone flying at 400' will undoubtedly be able to see things that the general public would not.

If you invite a member of the public into your home that invitee can see certain things from within the walls that the general public cannot see; but are those items "publically viewable"? Could the police come into your house (without your permission), look around and say "aha! Publically viewable, we don't need a warrant, nananana?" I think not.

And lets not confuse "Publically Viewable" with "In Plain Sight" -- if you have to resort to low flying aircraft or high-power telephoto lenses to see it, it's not in plain sight. Also note that the plain view doctrine requires that an officer's "access to the item has some prior justification under the Fourth Ammendment" (460 U.S. 730 (1983)). Furthermore, the police may not move objects to get a better view (Arizona v. Hicks 480 U.S. 321 (1987) - the officer moved a stereo to record the serial numbers to check if the equipment was stolen).

If the supreme court has held that an officer cannot rotate a stereo 90 degress so he can see the serial number without probable cause, how would the court react to that same officer launching a UAV over the fence?

Quoting Necigrad (Reply 6):
The sky is considered the National Airspace System, and not yours.

Below 200' AGL, No. Between 200' AGL and 1000' AGL this is at best greay, above 1000' AGL, no question about it - it is part of the NAS.

Quoting MDorBust (Reply 10):
Odd that some people seem to forget that the police already do that.

Yes, but a helicopter is not 400' above my property (or at least if it is, I really suck at estimating distances).

Like I said, most of my objections are personal rather than legal, but I do think there are some valid legal objections to this whole mess.

Lincoln
CO Is My Airline of Choice || Baggage Claim is an airline's last chance to disappoint a customer || Next flts in profile
 
bond007
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 9:15 am

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 11):
If the supreme court has held that an officer cannot rotate a stereo 90 degress so he can see the serial number without probable cause, how would the court react to that same officer launching a UAV over the fence?

Well, you may be correct, but this is a bad comparison as an example. The UAV did not "move objects to get a better view " - it simply took another angle to look at things. If the officer could have used a camera at a different angle to get the serial number, I assume it would be OK.

...but like I said - since there are hundreds of satellites taking detailed hi-res photos of anything they wish (and have been for years), the UAV is probably the least of your worries.


Jimbo
I'd rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air, than in the air wishing I was on the ground!
 
ANCFlyer
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 9:32 am

Lets keep this thread on the Civ-Av, FAA side of the discussion. Any more conversation regarding the 4th Amendment, etc, I'll move it to Non-Av as it's getting off topic quickly.

Thanks
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Fly2HMO
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RE: Police Drone - Is It Legal?

Tue Feb 06, 2007 10:13 am

Quoting Lincoln (Reply 11):
Below 200' AGL, No. Between 200' AGL and 1000' AGL this is at best greay.

According to the AIM chapter 3, Class G airspace includes 1200 AGL and below (obviously not within the confines of a controlled airport though). So technically, the air 1" over your head while you're standing in your backyard is Class G. Which, in my literal interpretation of the FARs, means that teeny bit of air is part of the NAS.

Obviously nobody will be flying 1" over my head, and it's illegal anyways, but as a pilot and as an ATC student, 'tis the NAS to me still.  Smile


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