Drones, Privacy

Farmers Flying Drones May Soon Be Given Clearance

As the sun peeks over the fields of organic grain in this grassy patch of the state, some mornings, a dark dot appears in the sky as well, and a loud buzz slices through the pastoral scene.

It is a drone, and its pilot is a farmer named Jean Hediger, one of a growing number of American agrarians who have taken to using unmanned aircraft — better known for their use in war-torn lands far from the wheat fields of eastern Colorado — to gather information about the health of their crops.

In doing so, these farmers are breaking the law. It is illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes without permission from federal authorities, and those who do so risk penalties in the thousands of dollars. But the technology holds such promise that many farmers are using it anyway, dotting the country’s rural skies with whirring devices saddled with tiny video cameras.

“This has really become a big deal in ag,” said Ms. Hediger, who is in her early 60s. “Our intent is pure,” she added. “Without being able to fly drones over our fields, they are asking us to remain in the dark ages.” Soon, however, farmers may be able to fly their drones openly.

In February, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed new rules that would allow people to fly small unmanned aircraft for commercial reasons. Drone operators would have to be certified and to keep their devices in sight at all times during flight. If the regulations are approved, after what could be a lengthy period of public comment and evaluation, there will be implications across the country: Drones could be used by construction workers, firefighters, filmmakers and others.

But few are as excited about this technology as farmers. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group, said that it expected agriculture to make up 80 percent of the market for unmanned aircraft after commercial flight is allowed.

“It’s invaluable,” said Corey Jacobs, a corn farmer who lives in rural Indiana. Mr. Jacobs, 28, used to spot weeds or weather damage by walking miles through his cornstalks in 100-degree heat. Now, he simply launches a drone.

He built his first unmanned aircraft in 2013 and quickly saw a business opportunity. Today, he is the founder and sole employee of Extreme UAS, which sells drones to fellow farmers. When he is not on a tractor, he is on Twitter, scouting for new clients.

Ms. Hediger, in Colorado, is one of his customers. She runs a 3,400-acre farm with her husband and her son, Bryce, 26. On a recent spring day, she stood in a wheat field as Bryce sent their newly bought quadcopter hurtling toward the horizon, a camera swinging from its belly.

He gripped a white control panel as he peered at a monitor that showed him a bird’s-eye view of the land. He scoured the monitor for weeds, which in past years have devastated their crop, forcing them to halt cultivation on more than half of their land.

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Law and Public Policy

University of Washington: Drones, Privacy, and Surveillance


On Thursday November 1st, at 12 noon I will be making a presentation entitled Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?  This presentation is based on my paper Drones and Privacy Governance, a short abstract of that paper appears below. 

Unmanned systems (drones) and other technological innovations raise serious questions about modern conceptions of privacy. This paper examines the constitutional doctrine related to aerial surveillance and technology, and finds that current doctrine is unlikely to prevent the use of unmanned systems. The paper next addresses calls to create a statutory requirement that will subject the use of unmanned systems to the warrant requirement. These calls are rejected because they fail to protect privacy, while unnecessarily hampering legitimate law enforcement efforts. To best protect privacy, the paper suggests various mechanisms of democratically centered privacy governance, and a regulatory regime to govern the use of unmanned systems. The paper’s appendix includes a model bill appropriate for adoption by cities, states, and the federal government. The bill outlines the various privacy governance measures discussed in the body of the paper. 

Law and Public Policy

Emerging Trends in Modern Warfare Conference

Emerging Trends in Modern Warfare Conference



The Emerging Trends in Modern Warfare conference will consist of two panels discussing different changes that are happening in the ways the United States military operates. The first panel focuses on the practical operational considerations that are necessary when people from the military, law enforcement, and intelligence communities work together and how this convergence is actually working in the field. The second panel focuses on the Constitutional, International Humanitarian Law, and Law of Armed Conflict issues that arise when these components operate together overseas.



Sept. 21, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.


Seminar rooms 4 and 5 (S-4 and S-5). University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law 3200 Fifth Ave. Sacramento, CA 95817 Map & Directions


  • General Admission — $20
  • MCLE Credit (Pacific McGeorge Alumni) — $25
  • MCLE Credit (non-Alumni) — $40
  • Students and Pacific McGeorge Faculty — Free
  • Register & Pay


For more information, please call 916.739.7138 or send an email to mlsatmcgeorge@pacific.edu.


8:30 to 9 a.m. Breakfast & Registration
9:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Opening Remarks
9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m Panel 1: The Operational Convergence Between the Military, the Intelligence Community, and Law Enforcement

  • Herb Brown, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Dana Dyson, Deputy Chief, CIA Office of General Counsel’s Operations Division
  • James Schmidli, Deputy General Counsel for Operations, Defense Intelligence Agency
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Lunch
12:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. Panel 2: Constitutional and International Legal Challenges Related to Modern Warfare Tactics, Technology, and Practices

  • Professor John Sims, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law
  • Ms. Anne Quintin, International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Professor Gregory McNeal, Pepperdine University School of Law
2:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. Closing Remarks


Law and Public Policy

What the Future Holds: Balancing Law, Liberty and National Security

On Friday November 4, 2011 The Florida International Law Review will host their Fall 2011 Symposium.  The topic is What the Future Holds: Balancing Law, Liberty and National Security.  I will be participating in Panel III- Looking Back to Shape the Future: How Foreign Policy will Affect Law, Liberty and National Security.

Here is the symposium teaser:
The rise of transnational terrorism and evolving threats to the national security of the United States has forced remarkable changes in United States foreign and domestic policy. The United States’ various strategies and policies for coping with these threats are celebrated by some and rejected by others. This symposium will focus on the law as well as related policy, political, and societal implications of national security policy. How do we balance liberty and individual freedoms with national security in today’s America? Where do we go from here?

The full schedule appears after the break.

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Law and Public Policy

Technology & Learning Faculty Conference: Increasing Student Engagement and Measuring Learning with Clickers


On September 14, 2011 Pepperdine University will be hosting its Inaugural Technology & Learning Faculty Conference.  I will be presenting on Increasing Student Engagement and Measuring Learning with Clickers.

Here is an excerpt from the program:

Professor of Law Gregory McNeal is no novice to teaching with technology. Professor McNeal, who teaches in a traditional lecture style, talks about using clickers to gain feedback from students and engage with them in the classroom. In this session you will experience what his students experience as he takes you through a lesson focused on the-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in a homicide case. This interactive presentation will demonstrate how clicker technology facilitates learning and critical thinking, and allows for immediate assessment. If you are interested in using clickers in your classroom, you should consider attending this session.


My presentation will demonstrate the use of Turning Technologies clickers (pictured at right).

The full agenda appears below:




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Law and Public Policy

Policy Paralysis and Homeland Security: A Review of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism by Stewart Baker

I recently reviewed Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism, by Stewart Baker former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Policy.  The review appears in Engage, Volume 11, Issue 3, December 2010. I’ve pasted the text of the review below.

Policy Paralysis and Homeland Security:  A Review of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism

The Department of Homeland Security is paralyzed by civil-libertarian privacy advocates, business interests, and bureaucratic turf battles. The result of this paralysis is a bias toward the status quo that is preventing the United States from protecting the homeland. According to Stewart Baker, in his must read book Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism (Hoover, 2010), this policy dynamic, combined with exponential advances in technology are key threats to U.S. national security.

As this review was going to print, the news was filled with the story of a video that went viral; in the video a passenger was subjected to an intrusive TSA pat down after he refused to pass through a full-body scanner. Privacy groups seized on the controversy, as the ACLU declared “Homeland Security wants to see you naked” and that “the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these machines or whether they justify the invasion of privacy involved.”1 One cannot fault the ACLU for questioning whether these systems are effective—in fact the GAO raised similar questions, inquiring as to whether the full-body scanners would have prevented the Christmas Day bombing attempt.2 What one can fault them for, though, is what Baker describes as advocating for “suffocating controls” on the information the U.S. gathers about suspected terrorists and how it is used (p.27). Consider this telling example recounted by Baker:

I started to believe that some of the privacy groups just objected in principle to any use of technology that might help catch criminals or terrorists. The example I remember best was when the police at Logan Airport got handheld computers. The computers were connected to public databases so they could check addresses and other information when they stopped someone. It was pretty much what any businessman could do already with a Blackberry or iPhone. Th e American Civil Liberties Union went nuts. The executive director of the Massachusetts chapter called the handhelds “mass scrutiny of the lives and activities of innocent people,” and “a violation of the core democratic principles that the government should not be permitted to violate a person’s privacy, unless it has a reason to believe that he or she is involved in wrongdoing.”  (p.27)

These were computers tied to public databases that any citizen could search, and still privacy groups fought tooth and nail to prevent their use. Stories and anecdotes like this one appear throughout Skating on Stilts as Baker recounts his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security as Assistant Secretary for Policy. Such stories reveal just how entrenched interest group politics are, and illustrate how resistance to change in the name of privacy has unintended consequences like the pat downs we are now witnessing at the airport. Stewart’s personal quips and observations also liven up the policy discussion, which is accessible even for the non-national security law and policy specialist. For example, when recounting the handheld computer flap above, Stewart writes, “If the ACLU considered that a civil liberties disaster . . . we’d better not tell them that we also have access to the White Pages” (p.28).

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