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What’s That Buzzing Noise? Oh, It’s Just a Drone, Spying on You at the Beach

What’s That Buzzing Noise? Oh, It’s Just a Drone, Spying on You at the Beach

This is officially a thing now. Drones owned by any Tom, Dick or Harry are flying around the neighborhood or the beach, looking at you. Some are filming you. How do you feel about that?

Perhaps you didn’t even realize that regular folks could afford to own a drone. Welcome to the modern age, everybody. If you want one, you too can be a proud drone owner for about $300 or so.

Why People Think Drones Are Just Terrible

A sudden spate of incidents at the beach are the most timely examples of why some are worried or angry about personal drone ownership. In a nutshell, the issue is privacy.

A woman vacationing in Virginia Beach was sunbathing in May when an odd noise got her attention.

“I was just lying there on the beach with my face pretty much in the sand and I began to hear this whirring,” the unidentified woman told WAVY TV.

“I noticed it was hovering over people, specifically girls, and I was like ‘OK, that’s kind of weird’ and the part that really ticked me off was when it started hovering like butt level behind this girl,” she added. She reported it, but no one was able to do anything, she said.

A similar incident occurred in April on Treasure Island in Pinellas County, Fla.

“I called 911 to let them know you’ve got some pervert out here on the beach recording not only people, adults, but children as well,” beachgoer Eric Rohner told Fox 13. The drone operator denied doing anything improper and authorities did not take action.

A woman on a public Connecticut beach earlier in May unwisely took matters into her own hands. Seeing a drone flying along the Hammonasset Beach coastline, she reportedly attacked the 17-year-old operating it. He got the incident on video, which you can see here:

The woman, Andrea Mears, now faces criminal charges.

To be fair, public beaches offer a particularly good location to fly small drones. There’s no danger of smacking into houses or trees, making beaches a safer choice for learning to fly them. In addition, it’s not unlawful to photograph people on a public beach, even if they’re wearing bikinis.

In addition to rude men taking shots of pretty sunbathers, others report legitimate Peeping Tom incidents. Consider what happened to the Kirschners of San Francisco.

They purchased a condo with huge windows offering exquisite views of the Golden Gate Bridge. They were thrilled — until a drone started hovering outside, checking them out.  They never found out who it was.

“[My wife] started hiding behind furniture because something’s looking in at you … and you’re very self-conscious about that all of a sudden,” Kirschner told WLRN. “I found myself doing the same thing. You’re hiding behind your own furniture in your own house where you just had privacy prior.”

Then there’s the private drone that somehow almost hit a commuter jet as it was coming in for a landing at the Tallahassee Regional Airport in March 2014. Come on, drone operators. Remote control flying is cool and everything, but show some common sense.

These days, with drones flitting about, you need to starting wondering about things you might not have worried about even a year ago. Is your ex spying on you? Is some pedophile watching your children? Is someone scoping out your home for a future break-in?  Or is it just the geeky kid next door?

Why People Think Drones Are Fabulous

Contrast these problems with some of the truly wonderful uses we’ve found for drones:

  • As eyes in the sky to prevent endangered animal poaching
  • Dropping small life-saving supplies such as food over dangerous areas
  • Storm chasers that can enter hurricanes and tornado-spawning thunderstorms
  • Harvesting solar and wind energy in the sky
  • Bird chasers that keep beaches free of birdie poop
  • Package delivery, as famously proposed by Amazon
  • Flying over factory farms to keep tabs on the treatment of animals

See? Drones aren’t bad. It’s all in how we use them.

What Rules Apply to Private Drones?

It’s still early to expect state and federal laws to catch up to drone technology. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires at a minimum that drones:

  • Must stay below 400 feet
  • Must be flown in an open space
  • Must not be flown directly over people

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that in 2014 around the country, 36 states introduced some kind of legislation aimed at drones. Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin now have some kind of drone surveillance legislation on the books. Enforcing those laws can be difficult, though.

For the most part, it’s still the wild west out there in terms of control over privately owned drones. Even a recent first attempt by the FAA to fine an individual $10,000 for using a drone to film a commercial fell flat in court. The FAA is appealing, so this story isn’t over yet.

Drones and personal privacy — the issues are complex and are only beginning to surface. How they play out will be fascinating to watch. What do you think of drones? Let us know in the comments below.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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98 comments

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9:40PM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

To me this is an outright invasion of privacy. Sick and perverted. People should feel safe in their homes and yards or on vacation at the beach. Individuals should not be able to own or fly these. They should only be used for what they are most needed for. As for RC planes, I hate those things. They sounds like a flying lawnmower. Very annoying.

5:18AM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

In cases where stalking or peeping is hard to prove, the people being photographed might consider suing for modelling fees, if the recording shows up anywhere on line.
http://www.danheller.com/model-release.html

In the meantime, a large water pistol filled with some sugary liquid ought to work wonders on the electronics.

10:29AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Thanks

9:12AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

There are a couple of easy answers to protect your privacy: for low flyers a baseball or cricket bat, for higher flyers, a catapult.

12:52AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

I think that what this post is talking about is less drone and more remote-control toys. But in either case, as with any new invention, the laws and regulations lag behind the inventions.

I'm sure that many people are not aware that it is completely legal to take photos of anyone in a public space. Laws only kick in as to how images are used afterwards, and then are only limited to requiring a model release if they are used to sell a product.

4:43PM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

If it's not illegal to fly over or around a person's home, what about government buildings? Drones have potential for many good things, but there has to be strict rules for the privacy of individuals.

2:01PM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Julia S. - its not just people who are affected - in the fields when the farmers aren't working is a good time for Eagles and Hawks to get a bite to eat - you will not see them when drones and RC flying toys are in the air

1:14PM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

the question is, if drones are the issue or the non existing respect of people towards each other is. Thankfully never having to witness this in my country (yet? hopefully never!) it indeed could be used for good purposes.

7:54AM PDT on Jun 22, 2014

Drones are potentially a brilliant piece of kit. Such a shame that someone always takes things a step too far.

11:37AM PDT on Jun 21, 2014

Flying a drone should require a license as they can do serious harm if they hit a person. As far as the stalking, reminds me of paparazzi photographers, which is illegal in some jurisdictions ...

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