Drones buzzing Sisters Country


Last updated 2/20/2024 at 9:28am

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Drone use has wide latitude under the law - even though it is unsettling to some residents.

A local resident recently raised concerns about drone traffic over private property - and what the law allows.

She told The Nugget that she has "repeatedly seen drones (daytime and nighttime) over our property and in the area even directly over our home which is on 68 acres. It is very unsettling. We have reported to Deschutes County Sheriff, but there is clearly nothing they can do...and it may not even be illegal."

She's not alone in raising this issue. The skies over Sisters are seeing an increase in drones, technically a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Once the purview of the military, and then hobbyists, drones today are in widespread use by nearly every public agency.

It's possible that the drone over Martin's property is employed by any number of alphabet agencies - ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife), USFWS (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, ODF (Oregon Department of Forestry. Maybe even the Sheriff's office or OSP (Oregon State Police).

In Sisters Country, drones are used to track wildlife, especially wolves and migrating herds. OSP uses them as an assist in finding poachers. ODF puts them up to assess fire threat.

There's also the possibility that your insurance carrier is using one to evaluate your roof or outbuildings. Maybe the roofer is using one to pinpoint a leak. Or it could be the teenagers down the road trying out their newest toy. Realtors often use drones as a tool in marketing properties.

Even models under $500 have amazingly good cameras and most with 4K (movie grade) video.

Can they take photos or videos of your property? Technically, yes, but they can't spy on you or invade your privacy. It can be a fine line. Generally speaking you have no expectation of privacy if you can be seen from outside your property line from a public space. So, if somebody can see you sunbathing by walking or driving past your property you are fair game. You are in the public square so to speak.

The public has little awareness about the right to photograph anything that can be seen in public, and that there is no expectation of privacy in public. A photographer, a video crew, anyone can photograph you and no consent is needed.

What about children? Even without parental permission, photography is legal. There's no expectation of privacy in public, kids included.

No person creating imagery is required to stop when you enter their view, or your kids, or your pets, and everyone is a legitimate subject if they can be seen from a public place.

Even inside your home, if someone wants to photograph you through the windows, you have the right to close the blinds to create privacy, but you don't have the right to stop someone from photographing what they can see while you're in public view.

If you have a four-foot or five-foot privacy fence, a six foot tall person can see you and can take your picture from outside your property. But they would be violating your rights were they to come onto your property and take the photo.

Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right - and that includes airports, refineries, the outside of federal buildings, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.

Oregon is trying to tighten things up. There are very strict state laws with respect to law enforcement use of drones in surveillance. Oregon statute allows that under certain conditions a landowner can bring an action against someone flying a drone lower than 400 feet over their property if they notified the owner/operator that they did not want a drone flown over their property at that height.

Good luck in finding the operator.

Drones are banned in most Oregon State Parks including Smith Rock - not by law, but by administrative rule. Likewise on most college campuses. Or historic sites. You cannot fly a drone in our National Parks primarily as a protection of wildlife and habitat.

States defer to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) for basic rules of operation. Their rules are few and obvious. For example you cannot fly a drone over people in a parade or sporting event. Or over traffic. Or near airports. During wildfire emergencies, airspace can be restricted to prohibit drones.

As of December 31, there were 790,918 drones registered with the FAA, 369,528 in the hands of commercial drone operators. To learn more go to https://www.faa.gov/uas.


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