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From Open Fields to Open Skies: The Constitutionality of Aerial Surveillance

NCJ Number
Narc Officer Volume: 6 Issue: 4 Dated: (April 1990) Pages: 47,49-51,53
N C McCabe
Date Published
5 pages
This essay traces the origin of aerial-surveillance cases and attempts to determine the direction the Supreme Court is taking with the notion that a person or a business has no reasonable expectation of privacy in certain areas of daily existence, despite significant efforts to exclude the public.
The "open skies" or aerial surveillance cases have their origin in the "open fields" doctrine, which held that police can enter without a warrant a piece of land outside the curtilage of a home as it is an "open field." Airborne observation of residential curtilage without a warrant is constitutional if such methods are available to the public and are not sufficiently rare to suggest a reasonable expectation of privacy. It remains undecided whether sophisticated photography, permissible without a warrant applied to an outdoor business area, can be used to photograph residential curtilage without a warrant.