On May 19, 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled upon Dow Chemical v. United States and Californiav. Ciraolo. These two 5- 4 decisions will substantially limit fourth amendment restrictions on law enforcement agencies where aerial surveillance is concerned.
In 1978, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials employed a commercial aerial photographer using a “standard floor-mounted, precision aerial mapping camera” to take pictures of Dow’s 2,000 acre facility from altitudes of 12,000, 3,000, and 1,200 feet. When Dow became aware of the aerial photography, the company brought suit in District Court alleging fourth amendment violations. The District Court granted Dow’s motion for summary judgment holding that the EPA had no authority to take aerial photographs and that doing so was a search in violation of the fourth amendment. The court of appeals reversed on the ground that Dow’s expectation of privacy was not reasonable and thus the requirements of Katz v. United States5 were not met. The court of appeals found that the Dow facility was more analogous to an “open field” than a home or office and that the common law “curtilage” doctrine did not apply to such an industrial complex . . .