Drones: Living in the age of the flying camera

The proliferation of drones has led to some remarkable views of this beautiful state we live in. Photos and video that used to require the rental of a helicopter or Cessna, can now be obtained by the average person with a drone. Amazon wants to deliver packages by remotely operated drones, and the small craft is even being used to assist search and rescue operations in our rugged mountains. But what about when they fly over my home here in town? Am I being spied on?

A recent post to North Ogden’s Mayor Brent Taylor’s Facebook group had homeowners asking the question: “Can drones fly over my property?” In most cases, the answer to this question is yes. Under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, drones are considered aircraft, and where they can operate is generally controlled by the federal government. Municipalities across the country have enacted ordinances to regulate drone use, but many have ended up in court, with plaintiffs arguing that only the government can regulate airspace and that a patchwork of local ordinances leads to confusion and uncertainty for both hobbyists and commercial operators.

Most commercially available drones are equipped with a fixed, wide angle lens. These lenses are made to capture wide views of the sky and landscape, and when flying high above your home, would not be able to zoom in on a person or item on your property. Odds are, you are not being spied on, and your property isn’t being “cased” when you spot a drone in the sky.

To avoid any concerns by property owners, operators should always follow these good neighbor guidelines when they fly here in town:

  • Inform your neighbors that you have a drone and your purpose for using it
  • Don’t fly low over homes, near someone’s windows or backyards, or over people
  • Use common sense while flying; avoid showboating or risky maneuvers.
  • Remember, you’re responsible for your actions and your aircraft and will be held responsible if things go wrong.

As with all technology, in the wrong hands, it can cause problems. There are numerous laws that can deal with anyone not operating a drone responsibly. This year, a new state law allows for the prosecution of anyone using a drone for voyeuristic purposes, as well as flying over your property with the intent to commit a crime, harass you, or your animals.

If you feel that a drone is harassing you, or operating in an unsafe manner near you or your property, you should do the following:

  • Pull out your cell phone and record the behavior of the drone
  • Look around for the operator and discuss your concerns; Drones have a limited range and battery life, and if the drone is flying low or near you, chances are you’ll find the operator.
  • If you feel like you’re being spied on or harassed, call the police and file a report. Remember to film evidence of your complaint.
  • Don’t go vigilante! Shooting or destroying a drone can be a federal crime.

In this age of technological innovation, drones are opening up new fronts in photography, videography, and business operations, while at the same time increasing privacy concerns in areas they operate in. Doing the right thing as a drone operator will go a long way to build trust and goodwill among a public that may be skeptical of flying cameras above their homes. Talk to your neighbors about drone use, and fly safe!


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