Matt Powers
Matt Powers · June 13, 2023

Last week, at a public hearing in Grand Rapids, residents rightly expressed concerns about the local police department’s proposal to purchase six drones. Just a few weeks before the police chief proposed buying drones, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about warrantless drone surveillance. Residents of Grand Rapids need only look north to Grand Traverse County, where Todd and Heather Maxon, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), have experienced this threat to privacy firsthand.

The Maxons live on a five-acre property where, as part of a long-standing zoning dispute, town officials flew a drone all around their property multiple times while recording videos over two years, all without a warrant. Now the town wants to use the fruits of its surveillance in an enforcement action. The fight has reached the Michigan Supreme Court, which will ultimately decide the lawsuit. If it says that the town’s drone flights aren’t a “search,” then officials will be free to fly drones over anyone’s property whenever they want.

“The Fourth Amendment exists to hover over law enforcement and keep them grounded by preventing such a dystopian outcome,” said IJ Litigation Fellow Trace Mitchell. “Hopefully, the Michigan Supreme Court will use the Maxons’ case to protect our rights so that we don’t have to keep constant watch for a government ‘eye in the sky.’ Until the skies clear up on this, Grand Rapids’ police department should hold off on buying any drones.”