Operating a Drone Comes with Legal Risk, Even in Your Backyard

  • Oct 15 2020

Ring’s latest security camera is a tiny drone that flies around inside of your house. Daytona plays host to seriously competitive drone racers who claim it is the next big thing in sports. And real estate listings that don’t include an aerial photo provided by a drone operator are passé. 

As the technical capabilities of drones increase and their prices drop, more and more South Florida residents are purchasing and using these versatile devices. While there are many fun and creative things that can be done with a personal drone, Florida operators must be cautious not to expose themselves to criminal or civil liability.

Voyeurism Is A Criminal Violation 

Florida’s voyeurism statute was written with “Peeping Toms” in mind, but it has been used to criminally prosecute drone users who fly beyond the bounds of their backyard. 

Florida Statute 810.14 says: 

(1) A person commits the offense of voyeurism when he or she, with lewd, lascivious, or indecent intent:

(a) Secretly observes another person when the other person is located in a dwelling, structure, or conveyance and such location provides a reasonable expectation of privacy.

(b) Secretly observes another person’s intimate areas in which the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy when the other person is located in a public or private dwelling, structure, or conveyance. As used in this paragraph, the term “intimate area” means any portion of a person’s body or undergarments that is covered by clothing and intended to be protected from public view.

When the Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC team is contacted by someone who has been charged with this crime, we focus on the “lewd, lascivious, or indecent intent” part. To convict, the government must have evidence that proves the drone operator was of this mindset. Most drone operators stumble across salacious scenes by accident, and looking at the footage captured by the drone’s camera can show that. 

The Freedom From Unwanted Surveillance Act Is a Civil Law 

Florida’s Freedom From Unwanted Surveillance Act is specifically targeted at drone users. It applies more broadly than the voyeurism law, but it is a civil law, not a criminal law. 

Florida Statute §934.50 provides in part: 

(2) DEFINITIONS.—As used in this act, the term:

(a) “Drone” means a powered, aerial vehicle that:

1. Does not carry a human operator;

2. Uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift;

3. Can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely;

4. Can be expendable or recoverable; and

5. Can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload.

(b) “Image” means a record of thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves; sound waves; odors; or other physical phenomena which captures conditions existing on or about real property or an individual located on that property.

(c) “Imaging device” means a mechanical, digital, or electronic viewing device; still camera; camcorder; motion picture camera; or any other instrument, equipment, or format capable of recording, storing, or transmitting an image.

(e) “Surveillance” means:

1. With respect to an owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of privately owned real property, the observation of such persons with sufficient visual clarity to be able to obtain information about their identity, habits, conduct, movements, or whereabouts; or

2. With respect to privately owned real property, the observation of such property’s physical improvements with sufficient visual clarity to be able to determine unique identifying features or its occupancy by one or more persons.


(b) A person… may not use a drone equipped with an imaging device to record an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image in violation of such person’s reasonable expectation of privacy without his or her written consent. For purposes of this section, a person is presumed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy on his or her privately owned real property if he or she is not observable by persons located at ground level in a place where they have a legal right to be, regardless of whether he or she is observable from the air with the use of a drone.

In a nutshell, the law prohibits drone operators from capturing photos, video, or other data that can be used to identify or gather information about other people or their private property. To put it even more concisely, creeping on your neighbors is not okay. 

Although this is a civil law, we suggest anyone who is found in violation of it contact an experienced criminal defense firm like Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC. This law is written like criminal law, and its penalties are pretty harsh — the only thing that makes it different from criminal law is that violating it won’t land you in jail. 

Your Miami Area Drone Law Firm

The experienced attorneys at Valiente, Carollo, and McElligott PLLC practice both criminal defense and property insurance law. Drone law is one of the areas where these two very different practice areas have some overlap; making our team well-equipped to defend drone operators who find themselves facing civil or criminal charges. If you have been charged with a drone law violation, we are ready to take your call and hear your side of the story. 

Posted in: Drone Law