Drone spying on homes in California neighbourhood?

Proponents of drone technology know that one of the reasons why regulatory authorities have been hesitated to have drones flying over people in public places is because of fears over invasion of privacy,

Well; this report out of Huntington Beach in California is not going to make their case better.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

CBS’s WVLT News reports that a California mother has raised alarm in her community after she said claimed to have seen a drone hovering near her home.

(Disclaimer: We do not wish to imply that the trespasser used the drone in the picture. It is just a picture of a cool drone).

It was the woman’s belief that the drone was spying on her daughter.

She said she saw the drone suspiciously acting like a Peeping Tom on Monday afternoon hovering above her adult daughter’s balcony in the backyard of their home in Huntington Beach.

“I could hear a drone,” the woman was quoted as saying.

“And then I just was walking up and I realized one kind of swooped down and was only, like, maybe five feet from me, looking right in.”

She said her daughter didn’t hear the drone because the TV was on.

“For her not to know that (the drone) was just sitting there viewing … which, she’s in there, you know,” the mother said. “I don’t want her seen, I don’t want anyone that close.”

Apparently, this was not the first time a drone was seen flying close to people’s windows in the area; police were alerted to this privacy breach and a warning was also posted a warning on the Nextdoor app.

Besides concerns about privacy invasion, residents expressed fears that criminals could be deploying drones to spy on the neighbourhood before they pounce.

“That’s an easy way to Peeping Tom,” the mother said. “I mean, if they can come right into your window and be looking in, that’s a problem.”

On the Nextdoor, people expressed their fears that criminals may be using drones to scope out homes; and there were also questions about their privacy rights.

Eric Traut, a civil trial attorney, said using drones to spy on people is an invasion of privacy.

“The laws are kind of catching up with the technology now, fortunately. So, you could have a drone that’s half a mile away videotaping somebody in their bathroom or bedroom and be in violation of the civil code section,” he said. “It’s also a violation of penal code.”

The California law on drone regulation spells out that no drone pilot can enter the airspace of a person to capture images without consent, nor can they take photos or record video of a person engaged in personal, private or familial activities without approval.

“It’s exactly the same as a peeper standing in your backyard or from their backyard,” Traut said. “As I said, it doesn’t have to be a trespass. If you’re looking into an area where people have an expectation of privacy, whether it’s with a drone or physically doing it or binoculars or any other device, it’s a violation of the law.”

Traut recommends that people with privacy concerns get photos or video of drones they believe may be invading their privacy.

For counterbalance, drone technology can be a really good deterrent against criminal behaviour in residential neighbourhoods without so much as disturbing peace or invading privacy.

But it has to be done right.

Here’s the practical experience of Kim James, the director at Drone Guards, one of the top security drone service providers in south Africa:

“When rolling out a drone security programme at a residential estate, the communications plan is almost more important than starting to fly the drone. As part of the implementation process, the landowner permission and programme adoption is at most times a challenge of note.

“There is always that one guy…

“When we rolled out at one our sites way back when, albeit a robust communications plan, I recall getting feedback from the odd person on how the drone noise signature disturbed the peace, or how the assumption was that the drone pilots were encroaching privacy.

“Sitting with our client today, we recounted the successes and also discussed current resident and home owners’ association (HOA) feedback:

  • Seven months after implementation, a key arrest was made thanks to a fully integrated drone programme on a large difficult site
  • From 27 crime incidents/month, since the arrest there have been zero crime incidents.
  • Continuous ‘visible policing’ has kept this site crime free till today
  • Ongoing simulations ensure drone pilots and ground forces keep their skills up
  • Now residents call the GM from time to time noting they have not heard the drone for a while and check they are still operational – It seems the sound of the drone has now become sign of safety and comfort as opposed to a sign of privacy invasion.
  • Feedback is that the HOA will only continue to invest in the drone security programme albeit the threat being seemingly gone.”


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