Drones exploding in popularity, but raising concerns
Updated On: May 15 2013 12:47:02 AM EDT
Any day now, the Orange County Sheriff's Office could start using unmanned drones in certain investigations.
But, a new law just went into effect that only lets detectives use those hovering cameras if they have a warrant, or if there's a terrorist threat.
Local 6 found that it's not just law enforcement using drones. It's everyone from insurance agents to photographers to private investigators, like Orlando P.I. James Copenhaver. He recently purchased two $300 drones that he uses on surveillance cases.
"It weighs less than two pounds," says Copenhaver. "Quality-wise, it's just beyond what we've used in the past, and we use it quite frequently."
Copenhaver says he's caught everyone from cheating spouses to scam artists in the act, using his drones. But, we wanted to know where he draws the line when it comes to privacy.
"We're not going looking through windows, we're not looking into houses," says Copenhaver. "We will not cross the fence. I think legally we probably could get by with it. I just don't push the envelope and will not push it."
Turns out -- there's not much of an envelope to push. Local 6 did some digging and found that there are very few laws regarding drones.
According to the FAA, if you're a private citizen -- you have to fly below 400 feet, and must be at least three miles from and airport.
As far as privacy goes, there's nothing in writing.
"We have no way of knowing what people will do with their technology, we have no safeguard against that," says Al Ducharme, the President of Hoverfly Technologies, one of the top drone-makers in the world, based in Seminole County.
The company builds professional, high-end drones for film crews, wildlife photographers, and police agencies, to name a few.
"This is one of the hottest areas in terms of new products, new technologies," says Ducharme. But even he admits -- there's always the potential for abuse.
"They could just as well use the technology for some nefarious activity," says Ducharme.
The closest law that touches any kind of bad behavior is video voyeurism in Florida, which makes it a felony if you secretly record someone for arousal, amusement, or abuse when they don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
But, the law doesn't specify what is reasonable, and it doesn't say anything about drones. And that has one group, the ACLU, concerned and watching this issue, very closely.
"The technology is changing so fast that the laws haven't been able to change fast enough to keep up," says Baylor Johnson, a spokesperson for the ACLU in Miami. "It's going to continue to become more and more challenging as time goes on."
Right now, there's nothing in the works. Lawmakers are not currently working on any sort of legislation that deals with privacy and the use of drones by businesses or regular people.