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Drone Spying Laws (Is it illegal to Spy With a Drone?)

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
Drone spying laws

Nowadays, drone spying laws are generating a lot of hype. You can currently find multiple resources offering to teach specific techniques for how to spy with drones. Yet, these laws are not nearly as complex or limiting as you might think. Having drones flood the skies will be a great thing, eventually. However, it'll take time for the public to acclimate itself and know how to respect their fellow man's privacy while using these drones.

So, is it illegal to spy with a drone? Generally, it is against the law for a private citizen to spy on another person or collect data from them without their consent. Other uses for drones may be illegal, such as breaking into enclosed areas or spying on people in their homes. However, most drone uses are legal and acceptable under current U.S. law.

This article will help clarify the issue of spying with a drone by explaining what is and isn't illegal regarding surveillance. Also covered are your rights and how to protect yourself from these laws.

What Is Drone Spying?

Drone spying involves using a drone to spy on someone or something without their knowledge. You can use your drone for commercial purposes, such as real estate photography or aerial photography for advertising purposes. Private citizens who want to take pictures of their property for personal use or security reasons can also use them.

Drones Spying Laws

Drones are a great way to get a bird's-eye view of the world, but you must follow specific rules when you fly them. Drone spying laws vary from state to state, so you must know the laws before attempting any drone spying operation.

The use of drones for spying is illegal in most countries, but there are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, in some countries:

  1. It's illegal to fly drones over certain areas such as government buildings, airports, or anywhere else where you could interfere with air traffic. 
  2. It's illegal to fly a drone within a certain distance of an airport runway or helipad (typically about 5 km).
  3. It's illegal to fly drones at night because other aircraft can't see them and might crash into them.
  4. There are also some laws against flying drones near public events like concerts or sporting events, where many people may be watching from below. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict laws about how high drones can fly and how far away from airports they can be. Moreover, check with your town or city to make sure you're following their rules. 

Ensure you are familiar with the following laws to avoid getting fined or arrested for flying your drone illegally:

State Laws

Most states have trespass laws that prohibit entering someone else's land without permission or right. In most cases, these laws apply when entering private property with "malicious intent" or without the owner's consent. 

Some states also have laws against using unmanned aircraft (or drones) to conduct surveillance without the consent of all parties involved in the surveillance. For instance, in Kentucky (KY), a person who uses a drone to conduct surveillance of another person on private property without consent is guilty of a first-degree invasion of privacy. There is a maximum sentence of five years in prison for this crime or a fine of $10,000.00.

City Laws

Some cities prohibit flying drones too close to other people or buildings as well, especially if there is the possibility that the drone could cause harm if it crashes into something or falls on someone below. If a neighbor has an ordinance against flying drones over their property line, you could get arrested after ignoring those rules and flying anyway. 

Can a Drone Spy on You?

A drone can spy on you. However, it depends on the drone and the person flying it, but generally, yes. Someone may use their drone to spy on you in two ways: through its camera or its microphone.

A drone can record video and take photos of your home or business through its camera. Drones have tiny video cameras for taking pictures and videos. It can also capture images from high altitudes, including your home or business shots. You may not realize this, but some people use their drones to record videos or take photos without your knowledge. It can also record conversations between people inside your house or office building.

A drone could pick up sounds from inside your home or workplace through its microphone, including conversations between people inside your house or office building. It can then transmit them back to whoever is flying the device nearby or even someone far away.

The use of drones as surveillance tools is possible, but privacy rights still apply. The information collected by the drone belongs to you. Some state or federal laws prohibit using drones for such illegal surveillance.

Is it illegal to Spy With a Drone?

Can you use a drone to spy on people? Yes, and no! Yes, because there are many ways to use drones for spying purposes. For example, by using someone's Wi-Fi network and password, you can use their camera feed to extend your video. It also depends on your location and what you're doing. If you're in the United States, it is illegal to use a drone to spy on someone without their permission.

So why is it also no? Drone spying is subject to laws that regulate its use. Drones themselves are not inherently illegal. You can use your drone for good, but some uses of drones may be unlawful under certain circumstances. For example, if you were caught flying a drone over someone's property without permission or private property that wasn't yours, this would likely be considered trespassing. 

Trespassing is against the law and could result in fines or even jail time, depending on how serious the offense was. This applies even if you're taking pictures. Before flying your drone anywhere near someone else's property or body parts (even if they don't mind), make sure you've checked local laws first.

Who Has Drone Spying Rights?

Most states allow property owners to sue anyone who uses their property without permission. In addition, these states have specific rules about using cameras or other recording devices on someone else's property without their consent.

However, there are a few exceptions:

  1. In most cases, police officers can legally use drones for surveillance purposes as long as they obtain a warrant beforehand (with a few exceptions). For example, police officers can use drones during a search warrant execution if the drone is being used in conjunction with that warrant and only within the warrant's scope.
  2. You live in a building with multiple units and have permission from the owner to fly your drone over the entire building: In these cases, you may be able to fly your drone over other people's balconies or decks if they don't object.
  3. You're flying a hobby drone (non-commercial) within 400 feet of your home or place of business: In that case, it should weigh less than 55 pounds (without any payload). You must also stay within 400 feet of your drone while it's airborne unless otherwise authorized by air traffic control authorities at airports or heliports (if necessary).

If you want to use a drone to spy on someone, obtain written permission from the person whose property you are flying over. You could face criminal charges or civil lawsuits for flying the drone over someone else's property without permission, and they see it hovering above them.

In most cases, the courts will determine whether or not drone spying is legal based on a few key factors:

  • The intent of the person flying the drone: If you were snooping around for personal gain, it's probably illegal. However, if you wanted your house painted and hired someone to take pictures, it might be okay.
  • How far away the drone operator was from the property in question when you took pictures or videos (within eyesight versus through binoculars).

How Can You Protect Yourself From Drone Spying Laws?

Before flying your drone over private property, get written consent first (preferably in writing). You risk getting sued if caught flying over people’s property with your drone camera.

So, what about privacy? There are laws that specifically prohibit drone spying on other people's property without their permission. For instance, California's Penal Code section 632 makes it illegal to use any device. This includes a camera mounted on a drone to invade someone else's privacy through voyeurism or stalking.

If you're worried about being sued for spying with your drone camera, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Make sure the person giving consent knows what they're signing up for. For example, let them know you're going to use a drone with an attached microphone to film their house so they can hear what's happening inside their home while they’re away. This way, they'll know what it means when they consent.
  2. Ensure everyone involved understands how long you will store and use the footage. Many people worry about privacy issues surrounding drones: they don't know how much control they have over their images once they consent to be filmed or recorded by a drone camera. Therefore, ensure everyone involved understands what this means in advance.


You can use a drone for a variety of purposes. However, any drone that you own or have access to will be subject to FAA regulations and state laws. This means that you need to be familiar with the laws in your area before thinking about buying a drone.

Having no centralized tracking system makes this harder to accomplish. So, search for these laws and permits in your area on the FAA website and your city's official website. This way, you can ensure your drone flight doesn't violate any privacy laws. After all, ignorance of the law isn't an excuse.

Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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