Expert: Current Law Doesn't Do Much To Protect Individual's Personal Air Space

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The use of drones in overseas conflicts has been the source of growing controversy over the years, and now, police are using them to hunt down criminals.

In the world of warfare, the drones are guided on combat missions remotely by pilots and computers thousands of miles away. But now, anyone can buy a drone — without the weapons — to fly here at home.

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As CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner reported Wednesday, that trend has a lot of people worried. The use of domestic drones has raised some serious safety concerns and is said to be a big threat to privacy.

While not as large, civilian drones are nearly as sophisticated, using high-definition cameras and GPS devices.

Some drones can fly as far as three football fields away, recording and streaming video the entire way.

Sameer Parekh of Falkor Systems programmed a drone to follow a T-shirt Leitner was wearing. He could actually see the drone following her.

“As you’re moving around, the camera could see our company logo and then follow you around,” Parekh explained.

Another custom-built drone provided a spectacular view nearly from 200 feet over Brooklyn.

The drones are loud on the ground, but barely detectable to the eye or ear in the sky. That is exactly what has critics worried.

They say it is one thing to fly a drone in an open field and a controlled environment, but even enthusiasts have concerns about one of these machines potentially being abused.

“My concerns relate to safety, because we don’t have the technology right now for drones to fly safely in crowded environments,” Parekh said.

And concerns about safety don’t relate only to the drones themselves, but also to the people who are using them.

“I’ve seen it on the Internet,” said drone hobbyist Chris Kaczmarzyk, “people doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”

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Kaczmarzyk built his own drone. He said he flies it responsibly, but worries about others.

And if it falls into the wrong hands, Kaczmarzyk said, “It’s just going to be very bad.”

CBS 2 wanted to see just what the drones were capable of. With a homeowner’s permission, we launched one from a public sidewalk.

When the drone appeared outside the window of the home, a clear view inside was revealed.

“The unregulated use of private drones has a lot of creepy aspects to it,” said Fordham University Law School professor Joel Reidenberg.

If someone crosses your fence, it amounts to trespassing. But as for your personal airspace, Reidenberg said the law just isn’t there yet.

“Legally, for private individuals today, it’s a free for all,” he said. “There really isn’t much privacy law that would work to protect individuals from others spying on them.”

New York State Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx) has already proposed legislation to limit drone use by law enforcement. Next, he said, he plans to tackle personal drones.

“Any sex offender can purchase one and use it to spy on a woman, on a child, and create major problems for our society,” Sepulveda said.

But until the law catches up with the technology, we may all potentially be under surveillance – and never know it.

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