Drones and Privacy: Are You Protected from Spying Eyes?

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), are exponentially growing in the United States. Once used almost exclusively for military and rescue operations, drones are now one of the hottest Christmas list items and are quickly rising in the recreational market.

Additionally, other industries, such as real estate, agriculture, and security are seeing the benefits of drones, and the number of commercial drones is also increasing rapidly.

The number of drones has increased so much that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now requires registration and certification of all new drones in the United States. It is no surprise that the FAA is having a hard time making regulations to keep up with the changes, especially where they can be flown, who can fly them, and how to keep track of both.

Having a small, remote-controlled aerial vehicle mounted with a camera that can take high-resolution photos and video fly over your backyard can be unnerving, even if you are not a celebrity trying to dodge the paparazzi.

There are plenty of reasons to be interested in drones and privacy, whether you are a new drone hobbyist wanting to get out there and fly or a citizen fearing being recording while barbecuing with your friends.

As we mentioned, the regulations are changing, but there are protections in place to protect you from prying eyes on drones, and drone pilots need to abide by the rules for where to fly if they want to keep their licenses -- and their drones.

At Sky Eye Films, staying on top of the drone industry is our business. We help train new drone pilots at our Peak Drone School, and we take panoramic and spectacular drone footage for our clients. If you’re thinking of flying your drone or hiring us to do so, here are some things to consider about drones and privacy.

Drone Privacy Concerns

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As drones increase in popularity, so have privacy concerns. Several studies of Americans have revealed that some are worried about being spied upon, especially by the government, military, or law enforcement.

Respondents were less concerned with private hobbyist drone operators, or construction and real estate use. Women had more concern than men, according to the studies, citing fears of remote-controlled peeping toms and stalkers.

 The FAA doesn’t permit flying a drone outside of your line of sight. It’s illegal to operate a drone beyond where you can see it. Additionally, many states have laws against photographing or filming someone without their consent.

 There have been numerous controversial cases in several states where homeowners have shot drones that infringed on their property out of the sky. In nearly all cases, the homeowner was charged with either reckless endangerment, destruction of property (the drone) or another crime, and prevailed.

Some people argue that the presence of a drone constitutes a threat to their privacy and safety and that they have the right to destroy them on the grounds of trespassing. Although the laws and courts have not supported this, it’s best not to fly your drone unauthorized over private property.

Regulatory Concerns for Drone Piloting

Because of the explosive growth in the number of drones in the US, the FAA now requires that all drones are registered and permitted. Drone operators must register with the FAA, and each drone must have a compliant marking label containing the drone’s easily identifiable registration number. This system includes logging the owner’s physical address, which will allow for a drone to be returned to its owner in the event of an unplanned landing or lost drone.

Additionally, all drone operators must carry a Certificate of Registration or Flight ID. This document matches your name and your photo to the drones that you own. Failure to comply with these requirements will subject you to civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $250,000.

Unmarked drones are illegal.

Airspace Restrictions for Drone Flying

In the US, you are not allowed to fly your drone anywhere you would like. Drones must fly below 400 feet, and you may not operate a drone within 5 miles of an airport. Yes, this law was put into place after drones interfered with airport operations and disrupted other planes attempting to land. In one case, a drone nearly struck an airplane. Citizens flying on airplanes are protected from drones intruding into the airspace needed to keep air travel safe.

The FAA prohibits drone flying around stadiums or sporting events for NCAA, NASCAR, NFL, and Major League Baseball. No drones are allowed within three nautical miles of the venues from one hour before the event begins through one hour after the end. Spectators at these events are protected from unauthorized drone flights.

Drones also are prohibited from flying over US military bases or other key infrastructure designated as vital to national security. Examples include designated Department of Defense facilities, national landmarks such as Mt. Rushmore, Hoover Dam, Golden Gate Bridge or the Statue of Liberty, and places such as nuclear power plants. You can view a map of restricted, sensitive air space before you fly, to make sure you don’t break the law.

Washington, DC has more airspace restrictions than any other area of the United States. A 30-mile radius surrounding Reagan Washington National Airport is considered a Special Flight Rules Area, restricting all flights in the greater DC-area. Violators face criminal penalties and stiff fines. The entire area is protected from drone flights unless special permissions are granted by the FAA.

Flying Restrictions Over Emergency and Rescue Operations

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The FAA also restricts flying a drone over any emergency and rescue operations, including floods, wildfires, hurricanes, accidents, and other disasters. A drone enthusiast prevented wildfire fighting operations a few years ago, so this regulation needed to be enacting. Leave the disaster relief to the professionals and keep your drone out of the way of operations.

B4UFly App to Help You Know

In 2019, the FAA released a new free app for iOS and Android. The B4UFLY app helps recreational drone operators know where they can and cannot fly using an interactive interface and a flight planner. Stay in the know and avoid drone privacy concerns by using the app and following drone flying regulations and etiquette.

If you have questions about drones and privacy or want to earn your Part 107(a) drone flying certificate, contact us at Sky Eye Films. We’ll be glad to help.