A Connecticut judge heard arguments on Wednesday over whether the constitutional rights of two men who equipped a drone with weapons and posted videos to YouTube will be violated if a federal agency were to investigate them.
Austin Haughwout, 19, of Clinton, and his father, Bret Haughwout, shot two videos depicting a handgun and a flamethrower attached to a drone. After the videos were posted to YouTube an investigation was launched by local police, who later determined the father and son didn’t violate any local laws.
The U.S. attorney’s office has since issued subpoenas on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration but the Haughwouts have not complied with them, arguing the subpoenas violate their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and questioning.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer, who will make a decision as early as next week, stated the biggest issue at hand in this case is the distinction between the FAA’s authority to investigate and their authority to enforce the laws.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Larson argued that the FAA has jurisdiction over any craft used and designed to fly in navigable airspace and that drones fall under this category.
Larson went on to say that in this case the FAA simply wants to conduct an investigation because all they know about the armed drone is what they see in the videos and that the drone has the potential to be flown into the national airspace system.
Meyer posed several questions to the government about what the FAA has the authority to regulate and used an example of a car going airborne after taking a jump.
“The FAA will not have jurisdiction over a car jump … there has to be more of a consistent use. There is nothing today that allows a car to sustain flight,” Larson said.
Meyer also asked whether a craft that is flying six inches above the ground is subject to FAA regulation.
“Yes, your honor. That is the FAA’s position. Any use for flight constitutes grounds for air regulation,” Larson said.
Defense attorney Mario Cerame argued in court the FAA needs to say why drones need to be regulated. He argued on his client’s behalf that the agency lacks the authority to regulate recreational drones.
Meyer gave both sides a deadline of Monday, July 11, to file any additional documents and anticipates making a decision by next week.
Austin Haughwout is facing other legal battles as well. Last week he was arrested and charged with enticing a minor with a computer and possession of child pornography. He was arraigned on those charges last week.
A CNN request for comment from Haughwout’s lawyer representing him in that case, Jon L. Schoenhorn, was not immediately returned, but he told the Hartford Courant the arrest warrant “overly broad” and contained “nothing shocking.”