#93: Private Investigators Using Drones. Are They Really Using Them?

This is one of those articles that I truly want write without doing any research and just say please stop the madness.  Stop the madness of all the fear mongering with drones especially when it relates to private investigators.  The topic of drones automatically being associated to private investigators is silly. Drones relate more to hobbies, photography, law enforcement and  real estate than it does to the private investigation field (in my humble opinion).

Below is a video from Gerry Oginski.  Gerry Oginski is a lawyer in New York and could sell an Eskimo ice with his fear mongering on drones.  In this video he provides a fictitious example of a private investigator invading someone’s privacy with a drone.  Though I don’t agree with how he presents this information there is actually some useful information for claimants.  Take a look at the video.

Listen, I like the thought of using a drone as a private investigator.  I love gadgets, I love Radio Controlled (R/C) cars, and I love radio controlled helicopters.  And I have purchased a couple of drones/quadcopters recently as well.  Radio controlled helicopters have been out for a very long time and are very capable of having a small camera attached to it when flying.   R/C helicopters can fly just as high as a drone.  Why hasn’t there been any concern about R/C helicopters being used by private investigators in the past? If they were practical for surveillance on a daily basis then investigators would have been trying to use them long before “drones” were being marketed.

I first read about a private investigator using a drone when someone in a Linkedin group brought it to my attention.  The original article can be found by clicking here.  He stated he never pilots the drone and usually recruits some college kids or high school aged kids who are gamers.  The private investigator Chris Wright, stated she also uses small off road vehicles (Roombas on steroids) or RC cars.  Which to be clear, I would never use something that would attract more attention. A drone flying over you or an RC car driving around you would draw attention. Lets stop the madness.

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The exact quote is this, “Wright doesn’t pilot the drones herself. “I try to hire gamers. I go to the colleges and high schools and I find out who the geeks are, and then I hire them.” She said that her pilots are more skilled than she would ever be – and they like the challenge. Some of them are working towards their own private investigator licences, and their hours piloting the little devices can count as hours towards their certification. (None of Wright’s gamer pilots were willing to talk for this article. “They’re introverts,” she told me. “Not shy, but introverts.”)”

Sorry, let me pause a moment and tell you how ridiculous it all sounds.  Recruiting gamers to fly something that quite frankly takes quite a bit of practice and to fly something that typically costs quite a bit of money is a bit farfetched.  And let me get this straight, you’re letting an unlicensed individual or a minor, participate in an investigation? Seems legit (I am being sarcastic).

The reporter asked to speak to some of these R/C drone pilots, however the private investigator has some excuse as to why they can’t be interviewed.

The private investigator Wright then says this,” And if you lose one during a mission, you’re out a good chunk of your budget. But it can be worth it, because for the cases in which they’re useful, they can be very useful indeed.

This is all true except when you lose one you are likely losing all the footage you may or may not have secured because the camera and memory card on are the drone.

In my humble opinion I think this investigator is full of it and was looking for a bit of publicity.  But if there is one thing for sure about private investigators it is we know when someone is faking the funk…We know when someone is full of it.

Who are the ones using drone?

Those in Real Estate Are Using Drones

Those in real estate are using drones to shoot video and take pictures in a way that is different from the competition. Who would you rather hire to sell your home?  Someone that is going to make a big production to show how great your home is from above and show amazing angles or just a regular old photograph?

I am hiring the guy using a drone to shoot video and pictures and those in real estate know how important it is to be different.

Photographers And Movie Makers Are Using Drones

Photographers are loving the fact that they can take pictures from angles and heights that were not possible before without flying over the area they wished to photograph or videotape.  I can only imagine it has been good for the photography industry as it has been for the real estate industry.  Imagine the photos that will be taken during sporting events in the future.

The Guy Or Girl Who Likes Flying A Drone As A Hobby

I don’t want to invade your privacy, I just want to fly a helicopter or drone with my kids.  We race R/C cars and we tinker around with R/C helicopters.  We do all the things that I did as a kid and the stuff I wanted to do as a kid but couldn’t afford to buy.  Now I can afford to buy it and my kids enjoy playing with it.

In fact, here an interesting article of eight industries that are looking forward to drone use. Some are closer than others.

Drone makers are loving the fact they are in the news because it means people are buying drones at all price levels.  And the people who enjoy flying them are likely to eventually buy bigger and better drones (ya, that is what I plan on doing).  And with more people buying these drones it means more money is being put into the development and capabilities.

So what are some of the legalities that might get in the way of a private investigator using a drone?

Privacy Issues

Early in my career I learned that we could not videotape unless it was in plain view of the average person.  So if someone is doing something in their front yard in public it is fair game for me as a private investigator to videotape what that individual is doing.  Once they go into their home and they are out of view I stop videotaping.  I never zoom into windows from a distance.

If someone was in their backyard and it was not clearly visible without doing something to elevate my perspective, I did not video tape the activity.  Now, if there was a street above the persons back yard that provided a view (that any average person could see walking by) then I would video tape.  With that being said, I would not climb a tree, a fence, or put my camera on a pole and stick it in the area to get video of someone in their backyard.  There is an expectation of privacy and plenty of case law to support it.

So to simplify it, if it is not in plain view then you probably shouldn’t be videotaping it.

Why Wouldn’t I Use A Drone To Conduct Surveillance?

Why at the moment would I never consider using a drone? One reason is because they are so dang obvious and a little noisy.  For anything a drone can do I can likely do without it.  The difference between a drone and me is that the drone is already getting a bad name and people think of video cameras and being spied on when they see one.  When they see me, they just see an average guy but they don’t see my covert camera.

Keep it simple out there.  It is already hard enough to get footage of people then to try to get fancy with a drone.  And don’t ruin drones for everyone by doing something that invades someone’s privacy as a private investigator.

Until my next rant,

Let’s stay classy private investigators.

Here are two websites that appear to be keeping up with drone laws and news: