Does the First Amendment protect animal activists as they use drones to spy on farmers and ranchers?
That’s the question being asked as more states across the country pass laws to protect the privacy of producers. According to the Washington Post, however, legal experts anticipate that this answer is “yes,” but courts have not yet considered the question.
Earlier this year, PETA announced it planned to use drones to watch hunters and farmers, and many have expressed concern about the ramifications of the invasion of their privacy.
In response to the growing use of drones by these activists and others, six states have passed laws to regulate drone use. In Idaho, for example, a drone privacy bill goes into effect on July 1 that will require a farmer’s permission before “farm, dairy, ranch or other agricultural industry” can be monitored with an unmanned aerial vehicle.
"It comes down to private property rights," Idaho farmer Robert Blair said in an interview with Capital Press. "Would I let people walk around my farm without an invitation? In PETA's case, I am not giving permission to fly over my farm."
A similar bill introduced in the Missouri House earlier this year put similar restrictions on drone surveillance. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Casey Guernsey of Bethany, Mo., points that it is “completely reasonable for citizens to rely on constitutional right for reasonable expectation of privacy."
Texas is another state limiting drone use in private use. The legislation, signed by Gov. Rick Perry last week, includes a “broad prohibition” on public and private drone use and a long list of exceptions. However, this approach illustrates the complexity of private drone regulations.
At least one legal expert believes that these laws raise First Amendment problems. Marot Kaminski, a Yale Law School scholar, believes that Idaho and Texas are “likely to end up with a ruling that says this doesn’t pass First Amendment muster.”