A North Dakota district court has just made the first ruling on an arrest made using drone surveillance. The presiding judge ruled that the use of the drones was not improper and had no bearing on the charges.
Rodney Brossart has a 3,000 acre farm near the small town of Lakota in North Dakota. When six cows wandered onto his property Brossart believed he could keep the cows. When police came Brossart and two family members chased them off the land threatening them with high-powered rifles. The result was a 16 hour long standoff with a SWAT team from the nearest city Grand Forks.
The police had a search warrant. They also had an agreement with Homeland Security that enabled them to call in a surveillance drone. The drone pinpointed Brossart's location on the farm. The SWAT team was able to then arrest Brossart. He was charged with terrorizing a sheriff, theft, and other charges.
Douglas Manbeck, who represents the state in the case, claims the drones were used only after warrants had already been issued for Brossart's arrest:
"The alleged crimes were already committed long before a drone was even thought of being used. IIt was only used to help assure there weren't weapons and to make [the arrest] safer for both the Brossarts and law enforcement.""I know it's a touchy subject for anyone to feel that drones are in the air watching them, but I don't think there was any misuse in this case,"
John Vilasenor of the Brookings Institution an expert on drone use claims that using a drone is really no different than using a police helicopter:"It may have been the first time a drone was used to make an arrest, but it's certainly not going to be the last...I would be very surprised if someone were able to successfully launch a legal challenge [in Brossart's case]."
The FAA has already issued about 300 temporary licences for both research institutions and law enforcement agencies to use surveillance drones.
Bruce Quick Brossart's lawyer complained that the police used "guerrilla-like police tactics" in the arrest. Quick also described the use of the drone as "outrageous government conduct" and that it was "dispatched without approval or a warrant". Apparently there was a warrant and also approval for use of the drone. Quick also notes that laws regarding wandering livestock in North Dakota are not clear. He claims that the police abused their power by attempting to force Brossart to return the cows.
With more law enforcement agencies receiving licenses to use drones there will no doubt be more legal challenges to their use. While there may be little difference between use of drones or helicopters and perhaps security cameras their use increases government invasion of privacy. Perhaps the U.S. is not yet a police state but it is certainly already a surveillance state.