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?
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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