With drone technology readily available, how can people deal with the faceless invasions to their privacy? (Pixabay/File photo)

Residents in B.C. city complain about drones spying on backyards

Residents wonder recourse as drones dash across private properties and conduct home flybys

Picture this: you’re enjoying the peace and sanctity of your home when out of the corner of your eye you notice something that doesn’t belong. Flying above the ground, multiple blades propelling its insect-like body through the air, an unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drone, is trespassing on your property and watching you.

That’s what happened to Tammy Stettler and her family who live in Chilliwack’s Little Mountain area.

“It was upsetting,” said Stettler. “I instantly went out to the deck to let them know, ‘Hey, we see you!’ and it flew off. To this day we don’t know who did it.”

And although it seems as though the technology behind modern drones and quadcopters has really taken off in the past several years—putting them in the hands of anyone who cares to buy one—the first UAVs were actually designed in the late 19th century.

RELATED: New drone regulations further limit places you can fly

However, despite their lengthy history, having camera-equipped drones flying through neighbourhoods and in and out of backyards is a relatively new concept.

“We felt like they were (scoping us out),” said Stettler of her experience with an uninvited drone on her property.

“It was more so the impression of spying, not a recreational feeling. We (feel) for certain they were purposely watching the house … and using (the drone) to see something they wouldn’t normally have permission to see.

And Stettler’s not the only one who’s experienced this sort of invasion. When The Progress asked about local drone activity on social media, people from across the Fraser Valley recounted tales of having their privacy violated by a UAV.

By law, flight regulations for UAVs fall under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada, which means they’re federally regulated and follow the same rules regardless where they’re flown. And one of the first legal requirements is “respecting the Criminal Code, your provincial Trespass Act, and all municipal, provincial and territorial laws that apply.”

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“You expect privacy in your own home,” said Stettler, who’s a stay-at-home mom to four children. “And when you see a drone staring at you in the window, suddenly that sense of privacy or security disappears.

“(And) you’re not really prepared when they show up: no gun or sling shot near by, and they’re a lot faster than you and you (typically) don’t have time to shoot it out of the sky.”

However, while the RCMP recognizes the impact that a drone invading one’s privacy can have, they warn against taking matters into one’s own hands.

“Don’t shoot it out of the sky—report it,” warned Cpl. Mike Rail, media liason officer for the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment (UFVRD).

“The RCMP does not condone vigilantism justice. Every time you take the law into your own hands, you take a risk.”

READ MORE: Drone halts firefighting efforts in B.C. InteriorDrone halts firefighting efforts in B.C. Interior

If you want to shoot something, shoot it with your camera, adds the seasoned officer. “Everyone has a cellphone, so take a picture of (the drone). A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Also, part of the legal responsibilities of an UAV owner is to have his or her name, address, and telephone number clearly visible on the drone. So while that may not be seen in a photo, Rail adds that photos can reveal identifying marks, or act as small pieces that lead investigators towards a bigger story.

However, if you’re on the other end of a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS), continued Rail, it’s up to you to be both respectful and responsible while you’re flying. Flying onto private property, or any place a person wouldn’t be welcome could be considered mischief and may lead to criminal charges says Rail.

For more information about how to appropriately fly a drone, please visit the Government of Canada’s drone safety webpage at TC.gc.ca/en/services/aviation/drone-safety/flying-drone-safely-legally.html.


@SarahGawdin
Sarah.Gawdin@theprogress.com

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