Think Twice Before Flying Your Drone

Think Twice Before Flying Your Drone

The State of California has always been very concerned about its citizens privacy and has done its best to protect it. In the 21st century, the biggest threat to someone’s privacy is a camera drone. California is tackling this problem with Assembly Bill No. 2306. This law makes it both illegal and costly for anybody seeking to invade someone else’s privacy by taking photos of them with a camera drone. Many people say this law applies to paparazzi, but this is not entirely true. Drone sales have been increasing and many people buy drones for personal use. This can lead to concerns over where they  can legally fly their drone in certain areas. As a rule of thumb, a drone should not fly anywhere someone would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. An example would be your neighbor’s backyard.

The bill is an attempt to “expand a person’s potential liability for constructive invasion of privacy  by removing the limitation that the person use a visual or auditory enhancing device, and would instead make the person liable when using any device…to engage in illegal activity.” California lawmakers felt that existing laws on invasion of privacy did not cover drones and adding Assembly  Bill No. 2306 would better protect people’s privacy. The full act can be read at the link specified below.

Past laws on privacy said that a person was liable

"for 'constructive invasion of privacy' for attempting to capture, in a 
manner highly offensive to a reasonable person, any type of visual image, 
sound recording, or other physical impression of another person engaging 
in a personal or familial activity under circumstances in which the  
plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy, through the use of a 
visual or auditory enhancing device."

Assembly Bill No. 2306 removes the statutory tort of “constructive invasion of privacy,” which required that device used to invade someone’s privacy either enhance the video or audio. Removing this part of the bill allows drones to fit the requirement.

The civil punishments for this act are very expensive and should serve as a deterrent for possible criminals. The act says any “person who comes within the description of this subdivision is also subject to a civil fine of not less than five thousand dollars ($5,000) and not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).” In addition, anyone in violation of this law would be liable for up to three times the amount of any general, special damages, or punitive damages. In the case of paparazzi or anyone else invading someone’s privacy for commercial gain, all profits from the invasion will be given to the victim.

Although drones are available to buy in many big box stores and on several online sites, we recommend everyone to be careful when flying their drones. Many experts recommend flying drones in rural areas and far from residential areas. The fines and penalties for violating this law are very expensive, so we highly encourage everyone to strongly consider the purpose behind flying their drone and taking all necessary precautions.

Source referenced:

  1. PetaPixel
  2. Assembly Bill No. 2306
  3. Assembly Bill No. 2306 Analysis



Court Ruling Offers Mixed View of Boss’s Access to Facebook

“I’m the Boss.  What can I see?”

As I represent employers of many different industries and of all business sizes, I am frequently asked to keep clients up to date and informed on new policies and court rulings that might affect their rights to access employee social media.  Technology and Social Media Sites have become increasingly influential not only in our private lives but our work environments as well.  So what can the Boss access?

The answer is slowing evolving and though anything less than clear, privacy is a key theme in a recent case from a U.S. District Court, that makes a distinction between private and public usage of social media sites such as Facebook.

After paramedic, Deborah Ehling was suspended from her job at Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corp. (MONOC), for a Facebook post the corporation disapproved of, Deborah took the company to court. Deborah was being penalized for having criticized Washington D.C. paramedics about the manner in which they handled the fatal shooting at U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Part of Ehling’s post read:

“I want to say 2 things to the DC medics. 1. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? and 2. This was your opportunity to really make a difference! WTF!!!! And to the other guards….go to target practice.”

MONOC viewed this post as “a deliberate disregard for patient safety.”

Deborah’s Facebook posts were “private’ in that they were only posted to be available to her Facebook “friends”, not the public at large.  But the post was leaked to management by Tim Ronco. Ronco was Deborah’s  colleague and Facebook friend. He would snap screen shots of Deborah’s postings and without solicitation, he would send them over to management. After management received the snap shots they were sent to Stacy Quagliana, executive director of administration at MONOC.

Private Posts are Private – Sort of.

The court did rule that Deborah’s postings were private under the Stored Communications Act, and thus they were protected. However, authorized viewers of Deborah’s posts, including her Facebook friends, could share the postings with whomever they wished. Furthermore, Ronco was not obligated by any person or persons of authority to share such information. He did so freely and of his own will. Thus, the court ultimately ruled in favor of Monmouth Ocean Hospital Service Corp. Digital privacy lawyer, David Straite, eloquently stated, “The court said there’s no liability because she authorized the spy to see the posts.”

Because no information was coerced from Ronco, MONOC was not liable for invading Deborah’s privacy.

Liability in this case was “one step short of coercion.” Had MONOC consciously sought to invade Deborah’s privacy they would have been liable for lawyer fees and punitive damages.

The takeaways from this case are many, but include:

  • Employees – Don’t think your “private” Facebook “Friend’s Only” posts are private.  They are not.  Any friend authorized to read your post is free to republish your post.  The recipient is then free to act on that post.
  • Employers – You may read and act upon, but do not demand or take by coercion, your employees’ private Facebook posts.

Employee Policy Manual provisions – or employment agreement clauses – clearly delineating Social Media rights and duties may be helpful in providing clarification to both workers and bosses over what can and cannot be accessed and used in the world of Social Media.