Privacy concerns rise as personal drone market expands

Technology once only available to soldiers in battle can now be purchased at the mall. Shoppers can now purchase their own surveillance drones, and soon Big Brother might be looking at you.

The personal drone market is exploding, and one might be surprised at the small battery powered aircraft's capabilities. All it takes is $300 to own one of your own.

Adriel Deautels, President and CEO of Netragard, a Massachusetts Internet security company specializing in privacy, met with Fox 25's Ted Daniel to show how his personal drone works outside of his home.

Most private drones can be controlled by an iPhone of iPad, and Deautels' device is no different. The device's camera transmits live streaming video allowing for a real time, birds-eye view. The video streamed from the drone can easily be recorded at the same time. A special permit is not required, anyone can buy these aircrafts.

These drones can be a fun toy for children and adults, but also a valuable tool for businesses using aerial photography. The concern is that putting this technology in the wrong hands could turn an eye in the sky, to a spy in the sky. They can fly up to a mile in the air, and even allow preprogrammed flight plans with GPS.

"Technically, I can fly to my neighbor's house and peer through the windows or I can watch my neighbors cut down his trees," Deautels said. "They are loud, but not so loud where they are going to heart it."

He says the newer models can even be programmed to act like aerial stalkers recognizing and following certain patterns. "If you are wearing a red jacket, you can program the drone to follow the color red and it would follow you at a certain distance," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration governs personal consumer drones the same way it models planes. They must be kept below 400 feet, in line of sight, and away from airports. The FAA does not, however, have the resources to enforce the privacy of neighbors. Overhead airspace is generally considered open to the public.

"This can run the gamut of privacy law," said privacy attorney Jay Marshall Wolman.

Wolman says this is a clear example of where the laws need to catch up with technology. Most homeowners have expectations of privacy, but currently, there are no criminal statutes addressing video surveillance with a personal drone.

"The police will need some guidance on this," Wolman says. "I think in terms of what is a civil dispute, what is a criminal dispute, that's best left between the parties and what's right for an arrest."

Police could charge the pilot of a peeping drone with stalking or disturbing, but a victim may have to take matters into their own hands by filing a lawsuit for protection.

Lawmakers in 11 states have proposed tighter regulations on surveillance drones, including those used by law enforcement. New restrictions are also being discussed on Capitol Hill. Until changes are made, the average consumer can fly right through the privacy loophole.

Texas is one of the states considering a ban on using the unmanned aircrafts to capture photos or videos on private property. The state has proposed up to one year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine as a penalty.

If a homeowner catches a peering drone on your property in Massachusetts, they can file civil charges of harassment or disturbing the peace. Perpetrators could be charged with disorderly conduct and serve up to six months in jail if convicted.

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