SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – No longer exclusively used by the military, drones are increasingly being used by groups and private individuals. As drones become even more popular, and with very few rules regarding their use, privacy experts are worried.
With a homeowner’s permission, KPIX 5 launched our drone, and shot video from their backyard. While we didn’t get close to the fence line, cameras can clearly see into the yards of next door neighbors.
KPIX 5 bought the drone from a Brookstone store at a mall for about $300. The company’s website said it has sold about 66,000 of them. It has two high-definition cameras and can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet.
Even hobbyists admit the cool factor of having your very own drone comes with privacy concerns.
“I’ve seen it on the internet, people doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” said hobbyist Chris Kaczmarkzyk.
“The drones really range in size, everything from the size of a small insect to the size of a jet aircraft,” said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Two years ago, the group filed a lawsuit forcing the government to release information on how it uses drones.
But more and more, private citizens are getting their hands on the devices.
“I certainly understand and share that concern about privacy,” said Ken Giles, a professor at UC Davis. “I have a swimming pool too.”
Giles uses the remote-controlled aircraft to spray crops in hard-to-reach hillside vineyards. Currently he is only spraying water to test the drone, but eventually he hopes to spray pesticides. His testing requires a permit from the FAA, something a private citizen with a drone is not required to do.
“At this point, we’re a public agency looking at the technology and conducting research. But there’s a commercial industry that’s right behind us,” Giles said. “Your neighbor next door with a GoPro camera on their drone? That’s a different concern.”
It’s a huge privacy concern for some, especially if your neighbor decides to fly near or over your property and decides to focus the drone’s camera into your home.
“Well, by 2015 the FAA will open up the skies to commercial drones. That means everybody from Google to News Corp could be flying a drone and by that time we really need to have regulations in place on how organizations should be flying drones,” Lynch said.
She said immediate privacy protection should come from the state.
“Any kind of voyeurism statute that might exist on a state or federal level would apply to a civilian use of drones,” Lynch said. “So we need to look at those statues and see if they can be expanded to private use.”
The FAA expects 10,000 commercial drones to be flying by 2020. The exact number of private citizens flying drones is unknown.
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