Integration of Drones into Domestic Airspace: Selected Legal Issues [April 4, 2013] [open pdf - 417KB]
"The integration of drones into U.S. skies is expected by many to yield significant commercial and societal benefits. Drones could be employed to inspect pipelines, survey crops, and monitor the weather. One newspaper has already used a drone to survey storm damage, and real estate agents have used them to survey property. In short, the extent of their potential domestic application is bound only by human ingenuity. […] Yet, the full-scale introduction of drones into U.S. skies will inevitably generate a host of legal issues. This report will explore some of those issues. To begin, this report will describe the regulatory framework for permitting the use of unmanned vehicles and the potential rulemaking that will occur over the next few years. Next, it will discuss theories of takings and property torts as they relate to drone flights over or near private property. It will then discuss the privacy interests implicated by drone surveillance conducted by private actors and the potential countervailing First Amendment rights to gather and receive news. Finally, this report will explore possible congressional responses to these privacy concerns, discuss how the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] has approached these concerns, and identify additional potential legal issues."
CRS Report for Congress, R42940