Monday, December 11, 2023

Drones, what is legal and what could end up costing you?

Drones have become ubiquitous, but that does not mean it is always legal to use them

Drones like this one can capture photo, video, and even help in lifesaving efforts, but for those thinking of flying a drone around private property, make sure you know the laws first (Port City Daily photo/File)
Drones like this one can capture photos, video and even help in lifesaving efforts, but for those thinking of flying a drone around private property, make sure you know the laws first (Port City Daily file photo)

WILMINGTON — Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a … drone?

What might have sounded like science fiction just 10-years ago has become a reality as more and more unmanned aircraft, better known as drones, make it to the public market.

Once reserved for the military, Hollywood movies and aircraft enthusiasts, drones have become a common sight among private citizens. But before you decide to start a career in unmanned flight, make sure you know the laws.

Because of the potential of privacy violations unmanned aircraft are subject to federal, state, and local laws and even the police are limited as to what they can use drones for.

According to state law, “No person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system to do any of the following: Conduct surveillance of: a person or a dwelling occupied by a person and that dwelling’s curtilage without the person’s consent. Private real property without the consent of the owner, easement holder, or lessee of the property.”

It is also illegal to photograph an individual without consent with the intention of publicly disseminating the photograph. This section does not apply to newsgathering, newsworthy events, or events and places to which the general public is invited.

If you happen to find yourself face-to-face with a drone on private property, you will have legal standing to take the operator of the drone to court.

“Any person who is the subject of unwarranted surveillance, or whose photograph is taken in violation of the provisions of this section, shall have a civil cause of action against the person, entity, or State agency that conducts the surveillance … In lieu of actual damages, the person whose photograph is taken may elect to recover $5,000 for each photograph or video that is published or otherwise disseminated, as well as reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees and injunctive or other relief as determined by the court,” according to state law.

New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office Spokesman Lt. Jerry Brewer said New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office does not currently use drones and cannot legally use drones to surveil residents, stating it has been ruled “unreasonable search and seizure.”

The Federal Aviation Administration also has its own set of federal laws that dictate where drones can operate, and a registration of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles.


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