Friday, June 06, 2014

My Camera Armed Drones and Your Privacy

Phantom 2 Quadcopter
Los Angeles, CA—There is a bit of a debate going on involving one of technology’s newer gifts.  The somewhat inexpensive, Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) drones are here.  Are they really a threat to your privacy?  I have the answer for you.
As most of my readers know, I’m a licensed private investigator.  I now have my own Air Force consisting of two consumer type camera-armed drones!  Can these gee wiz gizmos help me learn more about the people I’m investigating?  The answer is, not really.
First of all the devices are limited significantly by their power sources.  They are battery operated.  The longest they can stay in the air currently is under 25 minutes. 
They may be quiet but are visible especially at night because of their running lights.  The lights must stay on or the pilot can’t see or control it.  
For surveillance they are worthless because of the short flight time.  Traditional means of watching people are still more effective. 
If a person I’m investigating enters a vehicle I can only follow the vehicle for less than a mile under the best of conditions.  Tall buildings, power lines, lamp posts and trees all threaten my drones. 
Rain and wind are not friendly to my drones and I have no desire to risk seeing them destroyed. 
I’ve stayed awake nights trying to figure out ways of using the UAS to further my investigations.  I’ve found a couple that really don’t threaten privacy. 
Frequently I need high-resolution aerial images of accident or crime scenes to use during interviews and for court exhibits.  The drones are absolutely excellent for this purpose.
Locating stolen property or livestock has suddenly become easier.  Before I’d have to hire aircraft and pilots to look at property from the air to avoid allegations of trespass.  Now I can do the same thing but without spending a fortune with my drones.
Some could argue drones can be used to look through windows but so can any helicopter.  That is really not practical because of limitations on cameras in difficult lighting conditions.  My little drones are incapable of gathering audio because of issues like wind and the sound of the rotors. 
The affordable drones can’t handle the much heavier and sophisticated cameras and night vision equipment or spotlights like helicopters.  My cameras are the tiny and featherweight GoPro Hero 3+ that provides stunning images.
The only mischief I could really get involved with are nude sunbathers in their back yards that could be observed and photographed.  That’s been the case with helicopters since their invention.  That’s been an issue for Hollywood’s starlets for decades.  I have to ask have some of those pictures and resulting publicity furthered their careers? 
In the future I’m sure that the technology and capability of the drones will evolve in the future but we’re talking years and decades. 
The fact is that Americans have privacy rights provided they stay in places like inside their homes and businesses where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  My drones can’t see you while you’re in your bathtub or bed. 
I also plan to use these drones for newsgathering purposes.  Active accident, fire and crime scenes where helicopters are unavailable are going to be my drone targets.  We all know how helpful aerial views are for TV news video.   The problem is having this kind of event at a convenient distance. 
I challenge any of my visitors to figure out a way to invade privacy that would actually justify concerns.


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