Drones Posing a Privacy Risk?

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STATELINE (WIFR) – The consumer drone industry is booming in the U.S. according to local hobby shops, but the question now is about how our privacy is protected.

“With the technology that’s involved, the stability, they’re amazingly easy to fly.”

John Curtis owns Hobby Town USA in Loves Park and says he’s been selling drones for three years. To him, these drones represent the latest in technology.
Infrared video taken from a drone, for example, is something Curtis believes police and emergency crews can use to find criminals or help save lives.
“A few people can do mischievous things with any sort of device and I think the benefits far outweigh the risk of that,” Curtis says.

Drones are fairly new in the public market. They’re small and can hover above almost anything. Some people argue with more drones in the sky outfitted with cameras, they may pose a privacy risk, but one local legislator says that shouldn’t be a concern.

“It’s a new wave of something that we’re going to have to get used to.”

Rockford Senator Dave Syverson says people call his office wanting new laws prohibiting drones with cameras, but Syverson says that likely won’t happen.
“There are laws in the books already that deal with privacy issues, whether you’re doing it by your hand or doing it by a machine, it’s really the same thing.”
In Illinois, we can’t point cameras into people’s homes or record video of people in their yards, but in the public domain almost anything is fair game. The laws on the books speak to cell phone cameras and other digital cameras and drones.

“I think it’s just better to understand that these things may be out there and if it’s in the public domain, people should always be aware that you could be being filmed,” said Sen. Dave Syverson.

Rockford University IT Director P.J. Way has been paying close attention to drones and says the FAA is still creating regulations, but right now, only commercial use is prohibited nationally. Many of these regulations would likely not apply to drones that fly below 400 feet, which generally includes drones used for recreational use.

“Restricting use will only come after people begin to violate and abuse it and that would have to be pretty extensive,” Way says.

In Illinois, there are laws regulating what police can do with drone video, but again nothing on public use. Police can only use drones with a court order and they have to destroy the video after 30 days if it’s unusable in an investigation.

Rockford Police tell us they currently do not have any drones and have no plans on buying any, although they have said they can absolutely see the value in drones. The same also goes for the fire department.

Senator Syverson says any laws that may be coming will only clarify the laws that already exist and apply them to drones.

Drones have only been on the public market for recreational use for roughly the past four years, but the FAA believes we could see as many as 30,000 larger government and commercial drones in our skies by 2020 once federal guidelines are created.

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