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Homeowners' notions of privacy in their dwellings and surroundings are under attack from the threat of pervasive surveillance by small civilian drones equipped with highly sophisticated visual and data-gathering capabilities. Streamlined rules recently issued by the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA') have unleashed technological innovation that promises great societal benefits. However, the new rules expose homeowners to unwanted snooping because they lack limits on the distance drones may operate from residential dwellings or time of operations. Indeed, our society should not expect a federal agency to deal effectively with the widely diverse issues of drone technology facing the states, given the different needs of urban and rural communities. The FAA wisely anticipates adopting a multi-layered regulatory framework to address privacy issues. State and local governments, by contrast, are lagging far behind in regulatory efforts, and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has not kept pace with the privacy issues raised by drones operating in residential areas. Municipalities are best prepared to craft reasonable limitations to safeguard their residents, but few are doing so at the neighborhood level. Fortunately, the sixty-eight million homeowners living in condominium and homeowner associations and cooperatives ("community associations')may look to such quasi-governmental organizations for nimble and responsive action where they live. Community associations have authority and powers similar to municipalities and constitute the level of government closest to homeowners. This Article demonstrates that community associations, home to twenty percent of America's homeowners, constitute the level of government most familiar with characteristics of their neighborhoods and are the best positioned entities for safeguarding the privacy expectations of their homeowners as society adjusts to the uncertain and accelerating world of drone technology.


Originally published by the Fordham Urban Law Journal in 2017.