03 Jul Calm Down Icarus – Privacy Law – Drone Flying Close to Fireworks Show
Every year on July 4th, fireworks fill the skies of Saint Petersburg, Florida. But expect a new addition to this year’s skyline: drones. Amateur pilots love soaring from one display to the next, recording both the pyrotechnics and the excited crowds gathering on beaches and in backyards below. If you see a drone buzzing above you, do you have a right by law not to be recorded—an expectation of privacy?
Well, it depends. Florida law does prohibit a person from using a drone with an imaging device, such as a camera, GoPro, or other type of videorecorder, to record images of you or your private property in some circumstances. The person must intend to conduct drone surveillance on you or your private property, and the surveillance must violate your reasonable expectation of privacy without your written consent. (Fla. Stat. § 934.50). For example, if your neighbor accidentally flies a drone over your house, it’s not against the law. But, if he purposely flies it over your house to record you and your backyard barbeque and fireworks show because he wasn’t invited, he may be in trouble.
You have a reasonable expectation of privacy if your neighbor wouldn’t be able to see you at ground level, for example, if you and your private property are surrounded by a tall fence or bushes. But, if you’re on a local, public beach watching fireworks, the law does not give you the same reasonable expectation of privacy, because you are out in the open on public property. On a beach, it is likely that what it visible to people at ground level would be the same as what is visible to the drone in the sky.
So what does this mean for pilots on July 4th? Enjoy the fireworks, but stick to filming public areas.