The defendant operated a 2,000-acre chemical plant. The plant consisted of numerous covered buildings, with outdoor manufacturing equipment and piping conduits located between the buildings that were exposed to visual observation from the air. The defendant maintained an elaborate security system around the perimeter of the complex, barring ground- level public views of the area. When the defendant denied a request by the EPA for an on-site inspection of the plant, the EPA employed a commercial aerial photographer, using a standard precision aerial mapping camera, to take photographs of the facility from various altitudes, all of which were within lawful navigable airspace.
Whether this conduct was a Fourth Amendment search?
No. The government can use the air space just as other members of the public.
The EPA’s aerial photograph of the defendant’s plant complex from aircraft that was lawfully in public navigable airspace was not a search. Further, the open areas of an industrial plant complex are not analogous to the “curtilage” of a dwelling. The open areas of an industrial complex are more comparable to an “open field” in which an individual may not legitimately demand privacy.
476 U.S. 227, 106 S. Ct. 1819 (1986)