Also known as UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, have been around for some time. Technology has thrust them into the public spotlight with privacy being the principle concern. Today a pilot can fly an airplane over you if it is at least 500 feet above the terrain and if in a congested area like a city, 1,000 feet. A helicopter can fly lower as long as they do not pose a risk to people or property on the ground. A model airplane is not allowed to fly above 200 feet above the ground and it too must not pose a hazard to people or property. In manned aircraft, operators have always had the ability to use a telescope or binoculars to spy on people. Many years ago news and police aircraft were equipped with high power cameras which could see what you are cooking on the BBQ. Imagine what military aircraft can see?
Small remotely controlled aircraft can literately hover outside your bedroom window.
Now a wireless camera mounted in a small remote controlled aircraft can literately hover outside your bedroom window or fly into a building. Trespassing laws seem to apply to activity that is ground based. Trespassing from the air is not so defined. The federal government regulates the air space above the ground and that is where the controversy begins. For years cities have tried unsuccessfully to limit air operations losing out in court to federal law. So where does your privacy rights start and end? Does anyone have the right to peak into your house? Right now there appears to be no restrictions.
As a pilot I will tell you we are required to "see" and "avoid" other aircraft. What happens when the seeing part gets restricted to a camera lens and a wireless view in a monitor? The FAA is now struggling to write new rules for these UAV's. Cities and State governments are now trying to address the privacy issue without tripping over Federal Airspace Laws.
These types of aircraft do have the capacity to be beneficial so outright banning them is not in our best interest. Our safety and security may depend on the ability to stake out criminal activity.
Once again technology can be beneficial if used by responsible people and tragic if used inappropriately. No law will keep a crook from making a UAV into a weapon. Even a manned airplane was used as a weapon, 911.
Marc Sobel, Oakhurst