Out of thin air, a drone rises up to your apartment building window. Pausing, menacingly, at eye level, hovering long enough to capture your terrified expression before it zips away.
Are you being spied on?
“Odds are they are trying to get a great image of the world from an amazing, different perspective,” Adam Lisberg, director of communications for leading drone manufacturer DJI told Metro. “They are probably looking at the landscape, or are pursuing professional purposes. For an electronic survey. For safety inspections. At a construction site, it's faster and easier than traditional equipment.”
But barring special permits for professional and official uses, flying drones through the streets of New York City is illegal. Therefor the presence of a drone floating near the 27th floor of a Kips Bay apartment building (where one wayward drone flew through a window and narrowly missed a woman at her desk on Saturday) is not just unnerving, but threatening since it’s already engaged in an unlawful act.
Of the 714,545 FAA registered drones in the U.S. as of Jan. 31, a few rogue drones have proven to trigger protective reflexes. In what’s now dubbed the “drone slayer incident,” a Kentucky man named William Merideth used his Glock to shoot down a drone flying over his property. A judge ruled in 2015 that he was within his rights, and Merideth subsequently created a line of t-shirts with the words “Team Willie” and “Drone Slayer.”
Although such ballistic measures can’t be taken in New York City (that would be illegal), there are a few steps nervous New Yorkers can take if they think a drone is stalking them. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something.
“If you really think that a drone that is over your private property is pruriently trying to peer into your windows, then you treat it like a person who is trying to peer in. The likelihood that someone is using it for nefarious purposes is very low, but if you think someone is spying on you, it doesn’t matter if they’re on a ladder or with binoculars — they are breaking the law.”
The city advises you to call 911 (not 311) if you see a drone in restricted places or doing potentially unlawful things. If the police arrive while the drone and operator are still nearby, the pilot can be arrested if he or she cannot provide appropriate permits.
Miriam McNabb, a blogger at DroneLife.com, provides some other advice for those times you can swear someone is watching you.
1. Ask the operator. If you can see the operator, wait until they are not in flight before approaching them, then ask them what they were doing and if they were looking at you. Because drone operators are required to keep their drone in their line of sight, if you can’t find them, then you might have grounds for a complaint.
2. Refer to the law to define your complaint. Your complaint must be related to existing laws and not based on drone law, meaning it must relate to something regarding harassment, privacy, surveillance or noise ordinances. Remember, just because it’s flying over your property doesn’t mean it’s trespassing. The FAA says airspace is federal zone and a homeowner cannot restrict aircraft.
3. Document it in a timely way. Ideally, you should submit your complaint with any evidence as soon as possible. Record the exact time and date. Gather all possible details about the model of the drone and serial number if it’s visible.
4. Call the police and maybe report it to the FAA. Since most complaints do not fall under drone law, it may not be necessary to alert a federal agency.