Court Upholds Remote ID For Drones


The D.C. Circuit’s U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of the FAA’s Remote ID requirement for drones, saying “drone pilots generally lack any reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of their drone systems during flight.” RaceDayQuads, a racing drone retailer in Orlando, and drone operator Tyler Brennan filed a petition for review of the Remote ID rule on grounds that it amounted to “constant, warrantless governmental surveillance in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” but Judge Cornelia Pillard rejected the argument on several different counts.

Pillard said Remote ID doesn’t fit the definition of “search” under the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. She also said the FAA crafted the rule by the book to protect individual rights but also gain access to information through the rule when it’s investigating a violation. Finally, she said, knowing where drones are when they’re flying is just good policy. “Drones are coming. Lots of them. They are fun and useful. But their ability to pry, spy, crash, and drop things poses real risks,” she said in her judgment. “Free-for-all drone use threatens air traffic, people and things on the ground, and even national security. Congress recognizes as much.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Free-for-all R/C aircraft flying is anything but free but has been a reality since the 60s. The community has done a good job of self-policing without government meddling. This is just another example of government creating a crisis where none existed, and then conjuring up a solution that only bloats our enormous bureaucracy even more, costs us all money and chips away at our Liberty. It will do nothing to stop the few bad characters, just as no level of restrictions on gun ownership will ever stop determined people from committing gun crime. The problem is all about character, which starts and ends with strong families with a common set of morals.

    • So vote for more police to followup on tips of bad behaviour and investigate.

      There are more elections this fall, such as municipal ones in BC and MB.

      (There will be a problem with UAVs that do not have the tracking feature, either made without or disabled.
      ‘When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns.’

      As for ‘strong families’ as you probably know many are not – some are plain evil, including some religious ones.

      The needed ‘common set of morals’ is to not initiate force against others, as Tara Smith covers in her academic book ‘Moral Rights and Political Freedom’ which reviews various theories of morality.

      • Perhaps when elected officials demand tracking devices, the prerequisite is always that all elected officials wear them first and without exception? That would put an end to this micro-management nonsense.

        • Since when did elected officials start to fly in controlled airspace and cause hazards to aircraft in flight? None, I wager. Your comment is squarely in “troll” territory, devoid of logic or reasoning.

          Your right to do whatever you want to do ends at the interface where your actions as an individual pose enough of a hazard to the safety of others.

          • John L, the evidence and data conclude that “monitoring” did not stop 4 airliners from flying into buildings nor has it detered criminals from robbing convienience stores. Monitoring is used for procecution; not ending problems.

  2. And the FAA has the authority to regulate anything that flies.

    Curiously, they’ve not taken up the torch for frisbees, baseballs, basketballs, party balloons…

    I’ll see myself out.

    • Flies fly too.
      O CRAP! I think I may have given the FAA ideas.
      YUP! here they come, draggin’ their tiny hineys like moths to a candle.
      Damn! Now they are going to tax the dragon flies.

  3. “drone pilots generally lack any reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of their drone systems during flight.”

    I flew a lot of R/C in the 70’s and 80’s and the expectation was always that it was none of the governments business to track my every movement. Since when should we now allow everyone in the world to know exactly when (and exactly where) our childern are playing with their toys?

    • You’re right, without a warrant it’s not the government’s business to track YOUR movements. But it has the responsibility to ensure that airspace (especially controlled airspace) is free of preventable hazards.

      Doesn’t matter whether they are drones, R/C aircraft, or whatever you want to call them. Want to taxi them on the ground? Go right ahead, have at it. The government won’t give a rip. The minute they get into airspace occupied by aircraft, they pose hazards to safety of flight, and they need to be regulated.

      • Geeez, John. At least read the story. This was about toys being flow at extremely low altitudes in a speed competion. They are not a hazzard to aircraft and thus should not be regulated like they are hazzards. I bet they even had a NOTAM every time they fly their competitions.

  4. The difference between R/C aircraft and drones is the barrier to entry:
    – An R/C aircraft generally has to be built. And then one has to learn how to fly it. It requires a fair amount of time and dedication to achieve a successful result. This often meant joining a local club to learn these skills and be mentored in responsible behavior.

    – A drone’s sole barrier to entry is a working credit card. ANYBODY can buy and fly one. There is no training, no club, no mentorship. No hard work invested in learning skills or behavior.

    R/C aircraft didn’t need the FAA’s policing because they were inherently self-policing. Drone’s have eliminated that self-policing aspect.

    • Exactly.

      I’ve never seen an R/C aircraft come within a collision course of my aircraft, but I HAVE had a drone come close enough that I had to consider making evasive manuevers.

    • “ An R/C aircraft generally has to be built.”

      Generally? No. Not anymore. Plenty of RTF (ready to fly) R/C aircraft are available off the shelf.

    • “ A drone’s sole barrier to entry is a working credit card. ANYBODY can buy and fly one. There is no training, no club, no mentorship”

      An air vehicle’s sole barrier to entry is a working credit card. ANYBODY can buy and fly one. There is no training, no club, no mentorship.

  5. Somewhat off topic, but as it goes to unwarranted surveillance, I am trying to renew my (non-REAL ID) driver’s license without having my Biometric Data taken (Face Scan) and shared with the FBI, FDA, USPS, etc. without my knowledge and consent.

    Talk about tracking your every movement. And what if your face looks like some bad guy’s face?

    See and

  6. Think about this article next time you think the TSA is a nesessary “essential “ government agency!

  7. I think that Judge Pollard missed one key limitation: drones operating in navigable airspace versus simply being airborne.

    A hobby drone simply being airborne in a suburban backyard below the tree line is not clearly a hazard to navigation or an issue for the national airspace system. Judge Pollard, writing for the panel, allows the FAA to regulate all drones as if they are in the NAS.

    Congress gave the FAA the ability to regulate drones generally and consumer drones specifically in separate legislative enactments. However, the specific language is somewhat vague on what drones to regulate and how to regulate them; Congress only directed the FAA to “develop[] . . . consensus standards for remotely identifying operators and owners of unmanned aircraft systems” and to “issue regulations or guidance, as appropriate, based on any standards developed.”

    The FAA took a blanket approach requiring all drones to participate in their RFID scheme.

    Back to the persistant surveillance and Fourth Amend. search argument … if a drone is outside of 49 U.S. Code § 40102 (32) navigable airspace, what exactly is the basis for FAA regulation of the activity? The panel didn’t really shed light on that question. Rather, the court seems to have assumed that merely being in flight means that a drone is in navigable airspace, but, it isn’t clear that simply flying a drone at a low altitude (e.g. below the tree line on your own property) is in navigable airspace.

    By staute, Navigable airspace is defined as: ““navigable airspace” means airspace above the minimum altitudes of flight prescribed by regulations under this subpart and subpart III of this part, including airspace needed to ensure safety in the takeoff and landing of aircraft.”

    Despite citing the definition of navigable airspace on p. 9 of the opinion, the court never affirmatively applies the definition to the scope of the drone RF ID and tests the margins of the FAA regulation.

    Sticking with the imperfect ground vehicle license plate analogy, farm trucks that don’t drive on public roads are typically exempt from state license plate and even safety inspections. The DOT doesn’t require at DOT number for even big rigs operating only on private property for farm purposes so why should the FAA be able to require registration for a drone operating outside if statutory defined navigable airspace over private property?

    Brennan and RaceDayQuads raised a real legal question that is not trivial; they lost (for now), but the court really didn’t probe the margins of the FAA’s rule and the heart of the question of how the FAA can regulate all drones at all times at any altitude.

    To Paul and the AvWeb team … how about an article by Rick or another aviation lawyer working through some of these interesting regulatory questions.

    • “Sticking with the imperfect ground vehicle license plate analogy, farm trucks that don’t drive on public roads are typically exempt from state license plate and even safety inspections.”

      Probably because if such vehicles do drive off the farm, it will rather quickly get noticed by some cop somewhere that it doesn’t have any plates and will get pulled over. Or for the odd farm tractor or construction vehicle driven on the public roads, they generally stick to local roads for short distances, thus limiting their interference with normal road traffic.

      But with a drone, anyone can operate any one of them them into “navigable airspace”. Also, helicopters can legally operate almost anywhere, as can drones, so there has to be some way to identify where those drones are. Hence the need for a blanket rule in this case.

      • It’s always been the rule that small low level r/c flying was exempt from transponders and N numbers and inspections and the FAA. The idea that suddenly all of that history and tradition is out-the-window because of a “we say so” attidude is disgusting. God help all those with free flight models.

        • That “history and tradition” is out the window because the drone community has consistently shown they are unwilling to follow the history and tradition of the r/c crowd. I don’t ever recall hearing news reports of pilots on final approach having r/c aircraft fly next to them.

          • True, but we need a sence of reason and porportion. Personally I think that the “news” does neither.

      • “ But with a drone, anyone can operate any one of them them into “navigable airspace”.

        And anyone with a farm truck or a combine can operate any one of them into the “navigable airspace” of the interstate highway system. Better get that John Deere or Farmall transponder equipt. Better yet, make sure that transponder is at least half the cost of the tractor.

        • I already preemptively answered that hypothetical in the paragraph above the one you are replying to…

          • You preempted nothing.

            At most, you’ve confused “can” and “allowed”.

            Farm vehicles are allowed on some roads. They can drive on any roads.

            Hence, farm vehicles need transponders just in case some farmer decides to make a bee-line on the interstate.

            Drones are allowed in some airspace. They can fly in any airspace.

            Hence, drones need transponders.

  8. “Navigable airspace” defines jurisdiction.
    Well – it USED TO. Not any more.
    Consequently, on its face, this ruling covers flight conducted INDOORS at the Mall of America.
    Reminds me of “That (otherwise legal) gun COULD be used to kill someone.”
    If Congress wants to change the definition of “navigable airspace,” they arguably are free to do so. But remember what happened when the Department of the Interior tried to redefine “navigable waterways,” to include, essentially, puddles.
    Danger, Will Robinson.

    • Thought it doesn’t matter if the ruling actually does include indoor flights because the signals are unlikely to get out of the building, so as far as anyone knows, there aren’t any transponderless drones flying indoors.

      • “ Thought it doesn’t matter if the ruling actually does include indoor flights”

        ….and suddenly the rules don’t matter….

  9. Good decision. I HAVE seen both drones and R/C aircraft in flight. Both times way too close. Drone operators have NO constitutional right to endanger me or my passengers.. regardless of whether flying for persoan purposes or for a commercial purpose. KUDOS to the judge.