The other day a woman attacked a kid who was flying his drone over a public beach. She called him a pervert, and started whaling away at him. She was ultimately arrested for the attack. Here are the bare facts, as reported in our local (Connecticut) news:

  • The drone was one of those helicopter-like things that are about the size of a chop plate.
  • The drone did have a camera mounted under it.
  • The kid was flying his drone over a public beach, taking pictures of the scenery.
  • The drone was apparently high enough so that the people on the beach were unrecognizable.

So what are the guiding principles here?

  • This was a public beach. Even if the drone were flying just over people’s heads, it wouldn’t have seen anything more than what any other beachgoer would have seen (give or take a bald spot).
  • There is no legal expectation of privacy when you are out in public in a public place. There have been disputes about whether or not you can expect privacy when you are in your car, but so far as I know a beach umbrella isn’t in question.
  • Even if you believe someone is invading your privacy, you don’t have a right to give them a beating.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve been thinking about this issue for quite a while, ever since an abortive attempt to fly a model airplane when I was about 12. I always wanted one of those “spy cameras” that they used to sell in corner stores. 

I do value my privacy. If I see a drone hovering outside my window, I reserve the right to swat it with a tennis racket and call the police.

I also expect that if my likeness is going to be used for some commercial (or even artistic) purpose, someone will have to get my permission. As the webmaster for an organization, I’m extremely cognizant of the problems involved in posting pictures of our members, especially our minor members. The critical point, though, is posting them on the Nosynet. Putting a picture up on a bulletin board is, I’m pretty sure, in a different category.

Clearly, though, there is danger on both sides. The FAA can bluster all it wants, but as long as drones are sold in toy stores people will be using them for good or ill.