In the ever-evolving landscape of private investigations, the use of drones has become a hot topic, raising questions about the legality and ethical considerations surrounding the surveillance of individuals. As licensed private investigative agencies, we often receive inquiries from clients seeking to uncover information about others, ranging from their whereabouts and habits to their transactions and even their intentions. However, the use of drones for surveillance is subject to stringent laws in many states, exemplified by the regulations in Florida.

Understanding Florida’s Surveillance Laws

In the State of Florida, the use of drones for surveillance is governed by Statute 934.5, specifically under the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act. This statute provides a comprehensive framework for the use of aerial devices, including drones, and outlines the limitations imposed on individuals and political subdivisions.

Key Takeaways from Florida’s Laws:

  1. Prohibition of Surveillance on Privately Owned Real Property:
    • Section B of the statute explicitly states that a person or political subdivision is prohibited from using a drone to record an image of privately owned real property or its occupants with the intent to conduct surveillance.
  2. Expectation of Privacy:
    • The statute presumes that an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy on their privately owned real property if they are not observable by people at the ground level. This includes situations where individuals are behind fences or in backyard areas.
  3. Exceptions to the Rule:
    • While the statute lists exceptions to the prohibition, it explicitly excludes the use of drones for professions involving the gathering of information about an individual’s identity, habits, movements, affiliations, associations, transactions, reputation, or character. This includes private investigators and licensed investigators.

Legal Implications and Vicarious Liability

It’s crucial to emphasize that the use of drones to gather intel, especially when prohibited by state laws, can have serious legal implications. Both the individual performing the surveillance and those who hire them could be held liable through vicarious liability. This legal concept holds employers responsible for the actions of their employees or agents when conducted within the scope of their employment.

Alternative Methods and Considerations

While drones may seem like a tempting tool for surveillance, it’s essential to explore alternative, legal methods for gathering information. Many times, these methods prove more effective and avoid the legal pitfalls associated with drone usage.

Moreover, it’s important to note that drone usage leaves a digital trail. Drones are tracked through ADSB (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast), providing details about the drone’s owner, its location, and its flight path. This information can be traced back to identify those involved in the surveillance.

Stay Within the Legal Boundaries

The use of drones for surveillance, while technologically advanced, comes with a myriad of legal complexities. Whether you’re a licensed investigator or an individual seeking information, it is imperative to stay within the legal boundaries. Always consult with a legal professional to ensure that your investigative methods align with state laws, avoiding potential legal repercussions and safeguarding the integrity of the information gathered.