The Drone Dilemma, Part 4: Privacy

Privacy is directly related to technology when it comes to drones. Digital cameras have enabled drone technology that can read a coin from several thousand feet. Although I read that during research several years ago, I was unable to find the direct link to the article. As we delve into the privacy concerns in part 4 of these series, it will become apparent that privacy is a hotly debated subject that is evolving in a manner similar to the rest of the drone industry.

Drone technology has outpaced privacy laws by enabling detailed imagery that raises a number of issues. In part 3 of this series on drones, the focus was on drone airspace in terms of how low could a drone fly over your property. Since that writing, I have discovered an article titled “A battlefield of drones and privacy in your backyard” that reverts to a law from 1946 which states that property rights end 83 above the ground. Notice it says property rights and not privacy rights.

From here the article will mainly focus on the human interest aspect of privacy. Although several legal issues are addressed by articles in the references, it became apparent that privacy is ruled in a case by case basis at the time of this writing. Therefore, the invasion of privacy to date makes for a much better story. I will however mention that the FAA is more concerned with safety in their regulations than privacy. That was apparent after reading several articles on drone privacy.

One place that privacy has always been an issue is with celebrities. It was mentioned that the death of Princess Diana was related to an effort to outrun the Paparazzi. Now that drones enable aerial viewing, the privacy of Hollywood no longer is assured with the use of a fence or wall. These are easily overcome with the quadcopters possessed by many a picture seeker. Apparently technology means that you can’t run or hide.

Personal privacy is also an issue. There is a case pending about a Kentucky man (“Kentucky Man Arrested After Shooting Down Camera Drone with Shotgun”) who shot a drone that he thought was observing his 16 year old daughter while she was sunbathing in the back yard. In the book, “To Kill a Predator” the Predator pilot breaks off a mission in order to observe a lady sunbathing nude in her back yard.

Sunbathing is not the only activity observed by drone pilots. Much more has been observed by the US military in the Middle East as documented in the book “Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story” by Matt J. Martin.

No doubt there will be more on this issue. The possibilities are far and wide. They can range from stalking to catching partners in the act of cheating. The issues range from private observations to public issues such as tracking fugitives and identifying marijuana growers. With the current debate about the government pressuring Apple to overcome the phone encryption of the San Bernardino shooters, it is apparent that privacy and technology will be a tense subject for many in the future. As the debate progresses, it will surely impact the privacy we currently take for granted.

For now realize that drone surveillance is a fact of life. Technology not only allows you to be recorded, it also means that you could unknowingly become the next youtube sensation. Therefore it is best to think twice about your outdoor activities in order to avoid going viral.


  1. Kentucky Man Arrested After Shooting Down Camera Drone with Shotgun
  2. Commentary: A battlefield of drones and privacy in your backyard” Stephen Carter, Bloomberg View August 3, 2015.
  3. Government’s Domestic Use of Drones Poses Privacy Questions for Congress and the Courts” By David Young, CIPP/US The Privacy Advisor | Apr 22, 2014
  4. Drone Regulations Should Focus on Safety and Privacy” By THE EDITORIAL BOARDJAN. 9, 2016.
  5. Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story” by Matt J. Martin (Author), Charles W. Sasser (Author) November 12, 2010
  6. To Kill a Predator: A Serial Killer Uses Predator Drones to Attack on American Soil Paperback – by Adir Rondack (Author) January 8, 2015

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