Often, when I’m flying, I get questions about drones and privacy. Can a drone be used to spy on someone?

A drone most certainly can be used for spying. As a matter of fact, most states, including North Carolina, have specific laws relating to drones and unwarranted surveillance. What is misunderstood, however, is what that drone can actually see from the air. Unfortunately, there’s a common fear that drones are looking in windows or taking pictures of us when we are outside.

A Drone Is Too Noisy To Get Too Close Without You Knowing About It
If you’ve been near a drone, you know that they can be quite loud. It’s not a common sound, so when a drone is in the air, people usually notice the sound pretty quickly. At about 10 feet away, a DJI Phantom 3 is about 80 decibels. That’s about as loud as a lawnmower or a doorbell. Sure, there are quieter drones on the market, but there are none that can hover outside of your window without you knowing it.

The Cameras Aren’t Usually Good Enough to Spy on You From a Distance
Most drone pilots will tell you that you need to be 150 to 200 feet off the ground before people are able to ignore the sound. At 200 feet, what can a drone see? Plenty, but there isn’t much detail. I’ve inserted a photo taken from a Phantom 4 at 200 feet above ground level.

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zoomThe second photo is a zoomed in version of the first photo so you can see my point: We can see that people are there, but there is no detail.

 

I do need to make the point that it is possible to get a much better camera on a drone. While that is true, the cost of those drones and cameras is much more than your average peeping tom is going to spend.

The Bottom Line
A drone can spy on you. One might be spying on you now (for you conspiracy theorists out there). If someone is spying on you with a drone, they can probably look to see if your car is at home or if you are walking your dog in the backyard. It’s unlikely, however, that they are watching you take a bath from a drone or reading your mail over your shoulder from the air. The technology wasn’t built to provide that much detail from the air, and the drone isn’t quiet enough (sorry brides) to take aerials from very close without giving themselves away.

 

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