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Suing to Stop Spying by Drones in Nevada

The privacy implications of drone-mounted cameras and microphones are only just beginning to be examined by lawmakers and civil society. The power of modern high definition cameras allows drones to see and record things that intrude into the private sphere. When a drone is deliberately used to “spy” on someone, the resulting footage can be used to harm the victim through harassment, embarrassment, or worse. People who have been harmed by malicious spying by drones may have recourse to Nevada’s laws regarding photography generally, as well as laws specifically limiting how drones may be used.

Photography and privacy in Nevada

Just because a camera is mounted on a drone does not alter the basic fact that the operator of the drone is acting as a photographer and is therefore subject to the restrictions that apply to photography. Here are some that may apply to “spying” cases:

  • Trespassers are not entitled to take photographs of private property.

Making recordings while unlawfully intruding on private property is not permitted. “Trespass” can include flying over property with a drone (see below). Trespass can also include things like lifting a camera over a fence to take photos of what lies beyond it, even though the camera itself is not over the private property.

In practice it can be difficult to answer the question of where public space ends and private space begins. A fence around a property creates an unambiguous privacy barrier, but the case can be less clear if a property is not fenced, or the photographed activity is being conducted in a way that seems to disregard privacy concerns. In short, the question of privacy expectations requires a case-by-case analysis.

  • The right of publicity restricts use of photos and videos of others.

Nevada law restricts the commercial use of photos and videos of other people without their written permission. This can protect victims of drone spying from some kinds of use of the resulting video, for example if a video is incorporated into a television program (other than a news broadcast or other exempted use).

Drones are subject to place restrictions

To lawfully fly drones over a certain size in Nevada the drone must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and must comply with state laws and regulations with respect to altitude and other matters. For example, a drone that is flown lower than 250 feet over private property is trespassing (and therefore its photographs or video are unlawful), but only if the owner of the property has notified the operator to stop flyovers or posted signs prohibiting drone use. This is a frustratingly high bar for someone who has suffered spying by drone, but it does give a quick method for starting the process of addressing unlawful drone use.

Ultimately someone who knows about drone spying should consider seeking an injunction to force the operator to stop. An invasion of privacy can lead to serious consequences for the victim and courts are unlikely to look kindly upon unscrupulous use of drones. For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has helped clients in the Las Vegas area seek compensation for personal injuries. If you are wondering how the law can help you address problems with unlawful use of drones in your area, call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476, or ask us to call you through our contact page.