On July 29, 2022, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its opinion in RaceDayQuads, LLC v. Dickson, upholding the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote ID Rule for drones.
The FAA had initially promulgated the Remote ID Rule as part of a package of sweeping updates to existing drone regulations in January 2021. In terms of its effect, the Remote ID Rule requires that all in-flight drones use radio frequencies to continuously emit: (1) a unique ID number; (2) latitude, longitude, geometric altitude, and velocity; (3) the latitude, longitude, and geometric altitude of the drone’s control station; (4) a time mark; and (4) any applicable “emergency status” notification – which indicates issues such as low fuel or a low battery. For these reasons, the Rule has often been referred to as a “digital license plate” requirement for drones, and it has been heralded as a means to further integrate drones into the national public airspace and, in turn, pave the way for expanded commercial uses.
In March of 2021, Tyler Brennan, a former Air Force pilot and drone enthusiast, along with his drone retail business RaceDayQuads, LLC, filed a lawsuit seeking to have the Remote ID Rule vacated on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. These Plaintiffs broadly asserted that the Rule’s broadcast requirement would amount to “constant, warrantless governmental surveillance in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” The Plaintiffs also advanced various procedural challenges to the method by which the FAA had promulgated the Rule.
Ultimately, the D.C. Circuit denied each of these arguments. The Court reasoned that “drone pilots generally lack any reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of their drone systems during flight” – particularly considering that drone flights occur almost exclusively in public, open air and thus are generally visible to the public. On that basis, the Court denied Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge, holding that the “limited, local, real-time information sharing the Rule requires,” which does not include any personal identifiers, but instead requires the disclosure of only a unique ID number and the location of operation, “is a far cry from the continuous surveillance the Supreme Court has held violates reasonable expectations of privacy.” The Court also denied Plaintiffs’ procedural challenges, finding that the Rule was not “arbitrary and capricious,” as the Plaintiffs had alleged.
It remains to be seen whether the Remote ID Rule will face Supreme Court scrutiny. If the Rule stands, it will represent a key step forward in terms of integrating drones into the national airspace, and open the door for businesses to expand the scope of how drones can be used in the commercial setting.