Drone Photograph a Breach of Privacy

  • April 28, 2021
  • M. Talal Farrukh Irfan Khan

As technology continues to evolve, new privacy issues will continue to come to the forefront, even in issues where traditional use of technology would not have been a problem.

In a recent decision[1], the Grand Traverse Circuit Court in the State of Michigan (No. 349230, LC No. 18-034553-CE), the court found that the use of a drone to photograph a couple’s home infringed their “reasonable expectation of privacy."[2] Todd and Heather Maxon’s backyard was photographed by Long Lake Township using an aerial drone in a zoning dispute. The couple sued the Township in 2018 and lost the initial motion to suppress evidence. However, on appeal, Justice Kathleen Jansen, sided with the couple and the panel ruled 2-1 in their favor.

For factual background, the Township and the couple had a settlement agreement related to a 2008 alleged violation of the Long Lake Township Ordinance by the couple. What’s relevant is that the Township agreed to ceasing any “further zoning enforcement action against the defendants” on the same facts and circumstances that had been revealed during the discovery process. In 2018, the Township brought a civil action, stating that the couple were in violation of the 2008 agreement and infringed the Ordinance. They relied on aerial photographs taken between 2010 and 2018. The couple, in defense and in an attempt to censor the photographs, relied on the fourth amendment of the US Constitution.