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If someone is using a drone to spy on you, what can they actually see?

aerial drones

Drone technologies have gone mainstream, so have you experienced one flying into your personal space yet? You don’t know who’s flying it or what they want, or what they can actually see.

Super secret surveillance gadgets

Drones were originally invented to perform surveillance functions for the military, and to drop missiles. It was only a matter of time before these aerial spies began to appeal to entrepreneurs and consumers. Nowadays, drones are available to the general public, ostensibly for photography projects and entertainment. For example, the sophisticated DJI Phantom 4 is available to customer for about $1,400.

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So what can people actually do with them?

As you might imagine, the availability of drones to the general public has raised some concerns about spying. Can and do people use drones to spy on their neighbors?

A number of lawsuits have already cropped up between drone flyers and the people they may or may not have been spying on – including one Kentucky dad who shot down a drone that he says was spying on his teen daughter.

Slate journalist Aymann Ismail was curious to find out how easy it would be to spy on people with a commercial drone. He took his DJI Phantom 4 on a test drive. With the permission of Slate Video’s executive producer Ayana Morali, Ismail flew a drone outside Morali’s second story Brooklyn apartment to see what he could see.

Ismail found that it was very easy to see Morali, including detailed facial expressions, but only when she stood near the window. Otherwise, it was too dark in the apartment to see what was going on inside.

Easy to peek, not so easy to spy

Ismail flew his drone down the street to try some outdoor spying at a nearby park. He found that it was easy to identify people and see the details of their clothing and facial expressions. Caleb, a 26 year old that Ismail filmed with this drone, was made rather uneasy by the encounter.

He said, “it’s easy to imagine people using it for malicious intent potentially.”

Indeed, it’s not hard to image that as technology advances, using a drone to spy will only become easier. However, Ismail assures us that, at least for now, it would be pretty tricky for a drone operator to spy on you undetected because the rotors on the drone are “as loud as a lawn mower.”

#DroneSpying

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. JAV

    May 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    This is not a drone issue; it is a photography privacy issue.

    Many states already have Paparazzi or Peeping-Tom laws which protect people in private locations regardless of the exact camera platform being used. Narrowly tying any law to a single piece of technology will make the law obsolete by the time it is enacted.

    Does it really matter that the camera is flown by a drone? How about a step ladder and your phone? A selfie stick? A long lens equipped SLR from a second story across the street? A balloon? A trained pigeon with micro camera? Etc…

    The outdoor park example in the article is nonsense since you have no expectation of privacy in a public park and most cell phones do a better job at taking pictures in a park than a consumer drone camera.

    A single camera privacy law can criminalize privacy violating activities and does need yet another law every time a new type of camera platform is rapidly invented.

    Florida for instance has a ridiculous drone surveillance act, so narrowly defined and with so many exemptions, that it serves nearly no purpose at all. Well except to make it look like the governor is taking action against the evil drone threat.

  2. Pingback: Dedrone just raised $15M to protect people from drones' spyin' eyes - The American Genius

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