Drones and privacy expectations

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Recognizing that drones give peeping Toms a high-tech boost to their perverted peering, Republican state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, proposes creating a whole new misdemeanor called “remote aerial voyeurism.” But in trying to make sure the law keeps up with technology, he inadvertently calls attention to inadequacies of language that already exist.

His bill would create laws to target drone operators who use the technology to invade people’s privacy or capture images of them in compromising positions. It would also bar using a drone to interfere with public safety officials or to harass someone and set penalties for sex offenders who use them to target people they aren’t supposed to contact.

In its current version, the bill criminalizes invading a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and that’s where the first problem lies. When and where and under what conditions is it “reasonable” to expect privacy?

“If a person’s in a hot tub, they’ve got an expectation of privacy defense, but I can see them from my second level,” Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, said at a committee hearing, using a hypothetical situation. “So, whether I can see them from my bedroom window or another window or a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) — have I invaded the expectation of privacy?”

A complicating factor is that our privacy expectations are evolving rapidly. Young people in particular think nothing of putting out for public consumption words and deeds that every previous generation would have been horrified to expose.

Another problem area is the state’s current definition of “peeping,” which understandably is being considered for insertion into the bill. Peeping is “any looking of a clandestine, surreptitious, prying or secretive nature.” Any looking? That’s awfully broad. By that definition, trying to get a sneaky look at a baseball game would no different than trying to get one at the women’s shower.

When people began using video cameras for their perversion (and the “upskirting” era began), the law was slow in changing. It took years for some states to punish video voyeurism in public spaces such as malls. Today, only a handful have specific prohibitions against drone voyeurism. Just like the last time, the state must wrestle with the issue without much precedent to go by. Being precise is an absolute necessity.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].