That buzzing sound overhead …

There’s an interesting story brewing overhead. Literally.

In my current hometown of La Vergne, Tenn., apparently there have been numerous reports from neighbors who have seen remote-controlled aircraft, better known as drones, buzzing overhead recently. Yes, drones!

The city issued a press release today  alerting residents to the reports and letting them know that they can contact police if they are uncomfortable about this. The police chief in the press release states that the drones are possibly being used to perform visual inspections of roofs for possible solicitation for repairs or replacement.

Numerous questions come to mind as a result of this: Do companies have a right to fly objects over your house and photograph or videotape it without a homeowner’s express permission? Is it the  same idea of a photographer taking pictures from a public street or sidewalk? As long as they stay in place and don’t step onto private property, they are legally allowed to take as many pics as they like, even into your windows. So, can drones do the same thing? And if so, how high do they have to be before they encroach on a person’s space? Google already takes pictures from a satellite for its maps and they have a real nice close-up image of my house you can view on the web, but those pics are taken from earth orbit. Not the same thing as a drone flying twenty or thirty feet overhead, is it?

I emailed the city’s public information officer some of my questions and she confirms that there may not be any laws governing such flyovers at present, nor may there be any laws broken. Simply put,  a homeowner owns the land and the house on the property, but not the air around it. However, she went on to say that now that police have received reports, city officials will be able to ask the town’s  attorney to look into any state or federal laws that may apply.

She also noted that no permits are needed for flyovers, but if you go through a neighborhood and solicit, then yes you need a permit… unless you only hang up flyers on door handles. Then no permit is needed. If you actually knock on doors to sell something, permit time. When the city does get a solicitation permit request, the police conduct a background check and they have to have a bond, she said. 

Flying remote-control aircraft isn’t new. You can buy remote-controlled airplane models at hobby stores, for instance. But the thing that concerns police, and homeowners, is the purpose of the flyovers.

Amazon drone makes a delivery.

You may recall that there was plenty of backlash in December when Amazon.com announced on Sixty Minutes that it was developing drones to make aerial deliveries of packages. It’s an interesting idea that could revolutionize the way goods are delivered to homes and businesses. But many see the plan as another intrusion of their privacy and have gone so far as to say that if such a drone flew over their “airspace,” they’d shoot the thing down and keep the package for themselves.

As one resident pointed out to the city’s board of aldermen at a recent meeting, Tennessee law restricts police from using drones but does not restrict pedophiles or criminals from using drones to spy on your home and children. Husbands can even spy on wives in divorce cases by using drones. The speaker wants the city to require background checks and permits from people using the drones, so that it’s clear there is no adverse use of the drones in mind.

In case you’re wondering as to how this post relates to my blog theme of Adventures in Writing, here’s what I see in this. Basically, this is an example of a real-life story idea just waiting to be turned into a fantastical fiction story. Thriller writers often scour technology magazines for new gadgets and advancements they can use in their stories. I personally subscribe to a news feed from the Department of Defense about its use of science and tech. It’s fascinating stuff, and who knows, someday something I read might lend itself to a great suspense story. Real-life issues like these prove that writers don’t have to really look far to find ideas that will resonate with today’s readers.

Still, while drones spying on everyday citizens may be a great idea for a thriller novel, it sounds more like the makings of a horror story to me.

Addendum:

According to this CNN report, using drones for commercial reasons is currently a violation of FAA rules.

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3 thoughts on “That buzzing sound overhead …

  1. I know this is old, but I wanted to throw my one penny in (I’m always a penny short of two cents. I believe there are laws that restrict photographers from snapping shots of folks where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. You can get into some legal gray areas because of the word “reasonable,” but I believe there were some rulings out of Iowa where it was determined you have a reasonable expectation of privacy if you are in your front yard as long as that front yard is covered by a privacy fence. Same goes for taking a photograph from the street pointing into someone’s windows: illegal because there is a reasonable expectation of privacy there. These machines sure do create an interesting situation, and it’ll be interesting to see how the FAA reacts to the technologies as they advance over the coming years.

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  2. Yeah. Check this blog out from the NY Times: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/criminalizing-photography/?_r=0

    Specifically this part:

    “There are permutations. I tell photographers, if you’re standing on a public sidewalk and you’re taking a picture with a 50-millimeter lens, and it’s a wide shot of the city street, that’s fine. If you now put on an 800-millimeter lens and take a picture through somebody’s window, you’ve now invaded their privacy and that could be a civil tort.”

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