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Where and when can you fly drones?

Posted at 7:05 PM, Sep 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-09 00:16:20-04

When used appropriately drones are an incredible advance in technology for photographers and recreational fliers, but they have also been used to invade the privacy of others.

"Because of the number of people that own drones and are flying them in their neighborhood we're dealing with a lot more residents who are calling in with questions," said Bryan Millard, Grover Beach Police Department Police Commander.

Specifically questions about drones flying through their backyard, an area where most people expect to have privacy.

"The First Amendment broadly protects the right of the public, of anybody, to film things that are in public space. It's where you move from public space to private space that there can be issues," said David Snyder, First Amendment Coalition Executive Director.

Leaving some Central Coast residents wondering just how close they can get with a drone.

"So there's a law in California actually that specifically addresses the issue of photography in airspace over private property," said Snyder.

Snyder says California’s anti-paparazzi law means people can be held liable for invasion of privacy if they enter certain property or airspace without permission.

"If the drone had video of photo capability and it moved over the airspace of a private house, and the person was filming or they intended to film, they could be held liable under this law," said Snyder.

The law carries serious financial penalties. If a person sues and a judge agrees that there was an invasion of privacy, significant financial damages can be awarded.

"So a backyard and portions of the house that aren't open, like your front yard, are what we would call an area of expectation of privacy," said Millard.

Meaning nobody should be able to see people by using a camera or recording device.

"However, certainly with backyard fences and things like that where a neighbor's window would look normally into a backyard you can't expect total privacy," said Millard.

These nuances create a bit of a gray area.

"So it's not specifically illegal for a drone to fly overhead, but certainly a drone hovering at very low levels of height right in your backyard or coming down into your yard that would be completely improper and a violation of your constitutional rights," said Millard.

An effort to better regulate drone usage is underway but has not yet been implemented.

"I know the FAA is working on rules that require drones to omit AM electronic signal that would be able to be traced back to their owners," said Millard.

The Gover Beach Police Department encourages anyone encountering issues with a drone to take a photo or video of it and reach out to their local police department.

When using drones the Grover Beach Police Department avoids private residential areas unless there is an active incident on which they are working.