MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As of January 2017, more than 600,000 people had registered their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration. Last year, the FAA put rules into place regarding registration and use of the unmanned vehicles.
So, where are people allowed to fly their drones?
Brandon Reinert has worked at Hub Hobby Center in Richfield for years. Over that time, he’s learned about what he can and can’t do with his drones and passes along that information to his customers.
He stays at least 5 miles away from airports, flies less than 400 feet above ground, only operates in daylight and always has his unmanned vehicle in his sight.
“If you’re going to fly in public where there’s people, you make sure it’s OK with them,” he says.
In 2016, the FAA enacted Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which says, in part, people cannot operate drones carelessly or recklessly or fly above areas with crowds of people.
The regulations address a number operating and registration requirements but does not specifically deal with issues of privacy.
“There’s a whole area of privacy that we don’t know much about yet,” says attorney Don Mark, a co-founder of Fafinski Mark & Johnson, who advises clients on unmanned vehicle systems. “That’s an area where I would caution hobbyists that are using this technology to be careful about hovering over other people’s property.”
Right now, there are no national privacy laws regarding drones, but Mark says there are 30 states with some restrictions. Those restrictions can include fines for unauthorized photographs.
Minnesota does not have any legislation regarding privacy and drones, though it has been introduced in prior legislative sessions.
In 2011, the City of St. Bonifacius banned drones. The city recently amended its law to allow law enforcement drones, in specific cases, or hobby drones, in an owner’s backyard, without surveillance capabilities.
To Mark, there’s a difference between operating a drone in an empty public park and operating it in a neighbor’s backyard where there’s an expectation of privacy.
“I don’t think the police are going to be able to do very much, but I think if there’s an ability to identify the operator, I think you can expect a lawsuit,” he says.
But there’s more to the regulations than just privacy.
The FAA must consider safety, which is another reason Mark would advise against flying a drone over a busy public park. The FAA says people may not operate drones over people not directly participating in the operation.
“It’s important for everyone in the hobby to make sure that they use their common sense when flying, because it jeopardizes the entire hobby if something goes down or somebody gets hurt,” says hobby drone operator Greg Chilton of Blaine.
The FAA requires owners to register drones that are between half a pound and 55 pounds. (Drones over 55 pounds are not allowed.) The cost to register is $5, but a court struck down that fee last month.
Mark says he does expect more privacy cases regarding drones in the next few years.