Being a Peeping Tom is getting really sophisticated. In days of yore, you could just sneak over to your neighbor’s house at a certain time of the evening and get a glimpse. Now, it’s hard work to peep, or so I’m told.
We have surveillance cameras all over the place nowadays. Evading those things takes some work, but it can be done. Lest I be accused of complicity, I’ll leave it to your imagination about how to evade cameras, but Google is your friend. The cameras now, if they catch you, have such good resolution that it’s really hard to say “that isn’t me!” I had a defendant in an armed robbery case one time claim that the robber on the video wasn’t him, but he was wearing a really unique jacket in the armed robbery that matched the one in his police interview. Duh.
Also, GPS location fixes can be had on your cell phone by the police with little to no problems. It used to be that the PoPo would at least get a warrant, but a lot of police don’t bother with the Fourth Amendment (what makes it so special anyway?), and just get a subpoena for GPS records. A court decision looms on the legality of that, but for now, just assume that the cops are going to track you, so you might want to leave your phone at home. That means if you want pictures, you’ll need to take an old fashioned digital camera. Check the batteries before you leave the house and make sure your SD card has enough room on it.
Next, and the real point of this column, is the use of drones to do peeping. There are a host of issues about drones, and there is no clear cut consensus of what is legal or not. Let’s say you want to use a drone to peep on the neighbor’s daughter. Is that legal? Well no, it’s not. But the PoPo have a heckuva time proving that was what you were doing. When you are standing between the bushes and the house in the late night hours, getting barked at by a dog, you don’t have a great defense to a peeping charge. But your drone? You had it out doing some discovery stuff, it’s not really peeping, at least that’s what you’ll say. Drones are getting better cameras and longer life batteries, so their use is skyrocketing. Peeping on neighbors is a logical use for drones, no matter what otherwise valid reasons droners give you.
Now, let’s say you fire some buckshot at an actual “on premises” peeper. No one is going to feel too sorry for the peeper when he’s pulling buckshot out of his butt. But shoot a drone? The droners get all upset about that, claiming, among other things, that only the FAA can police drones. Well, that might be what the federal law says, but Georgia law (OCGA 16-11-62(2)) says it is illegal for: “ Any person, through the use of any device, without the consent of all persons observed, to observe, photograph, or record the activities of another which occur in any private place and out of public view…” So the magic question is public view. Looking in your window isn’t a “public view” generally, unless you are an exhibitionist. But what about skinny dipping in your backyard pool? Sure, an airliner flying at 30,000 feet can see you, but they can’t see much. But a drone at 300 feet? It can get the creases on your skin. Hopefully it’s your tight abs and not a flabby stomach, but I’ll just move on to say that drones can violate your backyard endeavors easily.
Can you shoot the thing down? Well, if some buckshot for Peeping Tom is okay, why not some buckshot for the drone? Let’s see what kind of anti-aircraft defenses the drones can muster. I’m guessing not much. Now I don’t advocate shooting in the air in a crowded subdivision, but… buckshot raining down isn’t too likely to kill anyone. But it sure will disable a drone. If you can, find the drone and dispose of it real quick. Just like burying a burglar, if there’s no drone/body to be found, what’s the crime? Now if the drone was streaming video back to it’s home station and caught a good glimpse of you shooting at it, they might have a case on you. Back to those pesky Amendments, remember that the Fifth Amendment is your friend. Use it.
Kelly Burke, master attorney, former district attorney and magistrate judge, is engaged in private practice. He writes about the law, rock’n’roll and politics or anything that strikes him. These articles are not designed to give legal advice, but are designed to inform the public about how the law affects their daily lives. Contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org to comment on this article or suggest articles that you’d like to see and visit his website www.kellyrburke.com to view prior columns.