Court strikes down evidence in lawsuit gathered with drones

LONG LAKE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A northern Michigan community violated the rights of two residents by using a drone to take aerial photos of cars and other salvage material at their property, the state appeals court said.

The photos were used as evidence in a lawsuit against Todd and Heather Maxon, who live in Long Lake Township, near Traverse City.

The Maxons argued that the use of a drone without a court order violated Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches. The township said the couple didn’t have an expectation of privacy, but the court disagreed.

“Persons have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their property against drone surveillance, and therefore a governmental entity seeking to conduct drone surveillance must obtain a warrant or satisfy a traditional exception to the warrant requirement,” said judges Kathleen Jansen and Amy Ronayne Krause.

The township already had evidence that the Maxons were violating a zoning ordinance and creating a nuisance, the court said in a 2-1 opinion Thursday.

In a dissent, Judge Karen Fort Hood said she, too, was concerned about the “intrusive nature” of drones. But she said the photos didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment, based on previous binding legal decisions.