The Powers And Limitations Of Drones

January 5, 2019
Axis Geffen

Article written by Axis Geffen

Drones are pretty cool. They can be used for recreational purposes, for work or research, and even for collecting information. Drones are becoming more accessible, which means more people are using them, but there are rules and limitations to be aware of.

I bought this drone online, so now I can watch my boyfriend…right?

Wrong. Although this is a very common misconception, there are a number of rules that apply to surveillance of any kind, and having a drone does not exempt you from these rules; it actually adds more.

Many years ago, model airplanes and helicopters were very popular, and eventually hobbyists found ways to mount cameras to them which opened us to a whole new world of surveillance possibilities. However, with every advancement comes problems. When misuse of a tool or item becomes too problematic, the red tape comes out and strict rules are imposed on everyone. For many years, private investigators dreamed of the day that they could deploy a remote flying camera to see all of the things they were unable to. That day has come, but because there has been a lot of drone misuse, there are many rules that P.I.s and civilians must follow if they are going to use a drone.

The rules

The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that if you can’t do something without a drone, then you can’t do it with one. No drone, or other device for that matter, can be used to circumvent the law. This means that if your boyfriend walks behind a fence and you can’t see him, you cannot use the drone to look over the fence.

There are nuances to this, like if there is a public vantage point that a person could reasonably view from the other side of the fence, then you can use a drone to see what a person could also see; but those technicalities are pretty complicated. To be safe,  just don’t use a drone to do what you can’t normally do.

Privacy is a big concern when it comes to drone use, and regulators want to ensure that you are not inadvertently watching someone else while viewing what you actually want to see (and you may not legally be allowed to watch that either). But there is more to it than that if you are using a drone for work purposes.

Drone limitations

Although drones range in cost and abilities, they all face the same power issues. A really good drone can fly higher, and further, for slightly longer (up to 30 minutes or so); however, the higher you go, the less specific detail you’ll capture (and the more trouble you can face with government bodies that monitor that sort of thing). The further you go, the less visual contact with the drone you’ll have, and that can be very scary especially when you’ve spent a bunch of money on it. That also means the drone will have to travel that long distance to return to you, and will need adequate power to reach you safely. Finally, drones use a lot of energy, and although they can take a great video, batteries will begin to lose their ability to hold the same charge. That means they are constantly flying for shorter periods until the batteries are replaced.

Could this problem be resolved if you fly at a lower height, and for a shorter period of time? Not really, because the operator will encounter different problems. The lower you fly, the more attention your drone will attract. Drones are very noisy. On top of that, when people start to notice a drone, they start to look for the operator. It can become difficult to get the work done when someone starts talking to you about your device.

And of course, rain, snow, high winds, and weather in general can alter a drone’s course, damage it, or cause it to fall from very high heights into bodies of water or onto solid ground. Neither is your drone’s friend! So the conditions for obtaining that perfect video are very limited.

Do professional private investigators use drones for domestic surveillance?

Truthfully, professionals don’t need drones. Some of them have extra abilities which can prove useful in any number of other types of investigations such as looking for missing persons, scanning a large area to locate stolen equipment or vehicles, etc. But, when it comes to something like infidelity investigations, drones tend to open you up to more liability issues and rarely provide admissible information that is better or more complete than traditional surveillance methods.

It’s not to say that drones are never used, or that some people don’t take risks or implement drones when they shouldn’t, but when it comes to obtaining discreet, accurate, video and information regarding family law matters, my best advice is to keep your head out of the clouds!

Please remember that this article does not substitute proper legal advice. The topics covered here may not apply to your specific jurisdiction. Always check your local regulations before implementing any technology or conducting surveillance.