Drones & Environmental Monitoring


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Aerial drones are emerging as an effective tool for environmental monitoring and enforcement because of their ability to reach areas that would be otherwise inaccessible or cost-prohibitive. However, a regulatory framework has not developed as fast as the technology, raising concerns about privacy, evidentiary standards, and other issues. While the Federal Aviation Administration has started approving commercial drone applications, the use of drones by government agencies, private entities, and non-profit organizations is much more disordered. What are the liability risks? What are the privacy law implications? What is the regulatory purview and enforcement capability of the FAA?

EPA has historically flown over farmland in private aircraft looking for violations of the Clean Water Act—a less expensive way to perform inspections than on-site visits. As EPA and other agencies consider using drones to monitor industrial sites and farmland, many landowners claim it would be an invasion of privacy. Using drones for inspections also raises legal questions about information obtained from drone flyovers and the associated evidentiary requirements. As of July 2016, 32 states have enacted laws addressing unmanned aircraft systems and five states have adopted resolutions.

Fraught with legal uncertainty and the potential for significant public interest, the debate over the use of drones for environmental monitoring and enforcement raises important questions for many stakeholders. Join our panel to learn more about the current debates regarding drone use and regulation.

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