Drone Pilot Discovers River of Meat Blood

Illustration for article titled Drone Pilot Discovers River of Meat Blood

A Dallas drone hobbyist was flying his rig around one bright Texan afternoon, scouting the skies, when he hovered across something perturbing: an enormous, oozing river of blood behind a meatpacking plant. That's gross and illegal! Here come the cops.


The pilot tells sUAS News his reaction, which sounds remarkably calm given he discovered a huge stream of blood emptying into the Trinity River:

I was looking at images after the flight that showed a blood red creek and was thinking, could this really be what I think it is? Can you really do that, surely not?

Unfortunately, you can do it! But not legally. Federal and state authorities are now on that meat plant's ass—fetid pig blood should not be in waterways—all thanks to aerial diligence. As sUAS News points out, this is the kind of environmental bust that would've likely never happened before the present day. It's also refreshing to see an aerial drone used to discover (and potentially choke) a river of blood, rather than creating one. [sUAS News]


And then there will be the question of whether the images were legally obtained.

This is a new topic hitting the courts as we see more and more "hobbyists" trotting out their image-capturing eyes-in-the-sky. It's also one about which I am not terribly well read, but I'll give it a shot.

The question of how the images were obtained will land on the side of privacy laws. The meat packers may rely on some common law and/or statutory privacy laws to keep the pictures out of court, and perhaps have the case thrown out altogether. The question in such an instance would be whether and to what extent did the meat packers have an expectation of privacy on that part of their land (if indeed the images captured are of the meat packers property)? If they can prove that the land was private and their expectation of privacy was reasonable, there is at least some likelihood that they might prevent the pictures from entering a courtroom.

This, of course, seems at least a little unfair. After all, they are doing wrong, aren't they? Before we get up in arms about that, see that this affects individuals in just the same way.

Imagine a "drone" pilot having unfettered access to air space around your home while armed with a nice lens and some decent piloting skills. What would stop him from flying the drone right up to your window to have a look inside? Or up over your house to look inside an otherwise inaccessible rear-facing window or back yard. Under current common law and many statutory privacy laws, an individual doing this "in the flesh" (without the aid of a drone) would likely be found to violate your expectation of privacy and thus be guilty of being a "peeping Tom".

So the question lingers whether the expectation of privacy which could put an in-the-flesh peeper away might also be applicable if it's a drone doing the peeping. It's a question, more or less, of how far our expectation of privacy goes, and to what extent the courts and congress will see fit to protect that.

Here, one would hope that this particular case of a drone capturing actual and egregious wrongdoing would be met by a creative interpretation of privacy laws in order send the bad guys away. Unfortunately, that is quite the leap for a court to make, and the ripple effect of such an interpretation affecting individual privacy would be next to impossible to contain.

Privacy, as we well know from our internet lives, is a very hot topic. While something like the Parrot drone is perfectly legal on account of its particular height and range restrictions, I would expect to see a fair bit of litigation and legislation on the topic in the near future.