Drone surveillance protection or invasion of privacy


Are drones violating personal privacy?

I spent the 4th of July this year in Redondo beach. Apparently that community is embracing drone technology, tho I’m not sure everyone is stoked about it. One of my favorite things in life and the one thing that truly makes it feel that “summer is here” is riding bikes on the beach on 4th of July and the accompanying reckless abandon that this tradition insurers. I can remember years riding with a best friend thru Venice and Santa Monica with a fanny pack full of firecrackers and a cigar hanging from my lips to light them. I felt like a modern day Clint Eastwood, only more Spikoli. I did this years ago in Newport Beach and is was a celebratory war-zone. I once had a sky rocket war on Manhattan Beach at lifeguard station 27, and it was done without a single drop of police intervention. There’s nothing that makes you feel like a kid more then lighting a fuse to an explosive, and scurrying away suppressing laughter. So with this yearly tradition in mind my GF and I loaded our bikes and beach accouterment into my truck and toddled down the 110 FWY to my friends 4th of July party at the Redondo Pier. They live in the condo complex that is literally right behind the pier, so we had the option of venturing into the fracas with a place to retreat.

Are you worried about the wrong drone?

About mid afternoon my GF and I took a bike ride up and down the coast and realized that this was no doubt the most sedate 4th of July I can remember on ANY southland beach. From the beginning of the bike path below Redondo to Hermosa I did not see ONE rogue firework, NOT ONE! We got to Hermosa and there was a very heavy police presence with loads of them riding around in flat black militarized razors, it was really kinda horrifying. In the 30 minutes we spend people watching at the pier, we saw three incidents of a pack of police waddling to one location or another. With all their gear they really don’t move too quickly. I ventured to see what all the fuss was a couple of times and literally saw nothing, but I did see cute girls hitting on men in uniforms.

Back at my friends place I kept seeing DJI Inspires taking off and landing, so on a coffee run I spied an ominous looking sprinter van in the parking lot that was the source of all the flights. I stopped in to ask questions and peer in to see a 65″ monitor revealing what the drone was viewing and a square jawed fellow watching for any wrong doing by the celebratory populous. What have we become? Apparently this company, Flying Lion, had been hired by the Redondo Beach PD to surveil the crowds. And while I love all things drones, I really wasn’t too stoked to see my beloved multi-rotors participating in crowd control.

Top 5 things to think about

  •  A certified pilot
  •  Flight Pattern
  •  Proximity of drone
  •  Longevity of flight
  •  Suspicious departure

Let me back up. Back in 20012 when I had just gotten into the drone game, flying my Phantom 1, people would see me doing it and were genuinely excited to see this. “Is that a drone!?” Now a days that wonder and excitement has waned, when I get asked “Is that a drone” it’s usually with more suspicion and contempt then curious glee. My how the times have changed! But back to where I was going with this; drone surveillance on our countries celebration of independence really does not sit well with me. But what struck me is how high they were flying. The non-stop Inspires were parking at around 200′-300′ AGL, (which in this case was also ASL) I’m assuming they had DJI Z3 cameras on their Inspires, so they could zoom in (tho I’ve never seen one in person) They’re too far to see the difference between a can of coke and a can of Budweiser? Weed is pretty much legal, and you couldn’t tell the difference between a doobie or a cigarette. So maybe it’s just a form of intimidation? “It’s up there…behave!” I’ve been test flying my drones off my patio on occasion and I had one pretty up tight female neighbor who came out and told me I was awfully close to her bedroom window, when fact is I was 200′ from her house. I had a friend who did a test of how stealth drones aren’t. He filmed his neighbor washing dishes with a GoPro on a selfy-stick. She had no idea she was under surveillance, then he took his phantom 2 (It was a few years ago) and just flying in her yard she was well aware of it. Pretty much illustrating that in order for drones to capture anything incriminating or reveling, they have to fly so close to the window, there’s no way to fly without being noticed. There’s also the difference of lighting, a camera would need an extremely high dynamic range camera (Which alone is $40K+) which would require a heavy lift drone making it MORE conspicuous, that unless someone was in day-lit room, doing something incriminating, it’s not as big a threat as everyone likes to make it. But with “on demand air support” from every two bit entrepreneur looking to capitalize on the technology.

I understand why people’s reaction has changed, and as a professional drone pilot it has made my job harder, and it bums me out. I only want to captivate and entertain you or your clients.
I yearn for the old days … like 2014.