Use of drones by the media and anti drone activism

August 11, 2013 |

Der Spiegal reports on paparazzi using drones to take photo’s at Tina Turner’s recent wedding in Switzerland.

The story provides:

When Tina Turner got married at her estate in Switzerland over the weekend, she wanted to keep paparazzi away. But photographers used drones and other aircraft to get the exclusives they needed. The battle for pictures is increasingly moving into the airspace.

Tina Turner and German music producer Erwin Bach wanted to make sure that their wedding would not be disturbed. The ceremony, with its roughly 120 celebrity guests, took place on Sunday behind the high walls and trees surrounding Turner’s Villa Algonquin estate in the suburb of Küsnacht, on Lake Zurich. The couple set up large red cloth to block the lakeside garden from prying eyes and photographer’s lenses.

 Shortly after the Buddhist ceremony, the wedding party was startled by a small plane overhead. Toto Marti, a photographer for the Swiss tabloid Blick, leaned forward in the copilot seat and hit the shutter release. The publication landed a scoop and cashed in. Tabloids and magazines all over the world printed the photo. In Germany, it was the cover photo on both the mass-circulation daily Bild and the popular glossy Bunte.

It was exactly this that Turner, 73, and Bach wanted to prevent — and most likely, in the interest of their media partners, were obligated to prevent. They expected that photographers would try to move in from the lake on boats. But it came as a surprise to many of their guests that the fight for celebrity photos would go airborne. In addition to motor gliders, photographers on Lake Zurich had employed remote-controlled drones.

A Risky Endeavor

In the race for an exclusive wedding picture, Marti’s colleague Claudio Meier came up cold. The freelance photographer equipped himself with the latest technology and launched a remote-controlled drone from in front of Tina Turner’s estate. Meier wanted to fly the aircraft, a so-called quadrocopter, over Turner’s extravagant garden in order to get a good shot of the event.

The use of drones is less strictly regulated in Switzerland than it is in Germany. Nevertheless, the police forced the photojournalist to land the drone and confiscated the memory card from his camera. Claudio Meier complains that the action seriously hampered his work. He also says there was another photographer who also tried to use a drone to photograph the wedding guests, among them Bryan Adams and Oprah Winfrey.

Küsnacht’s local mayor, Markus Ernst, defends the decision to take action against the photographers’ aircraft. The drones could have collided with the helicopters that dropped rose petals over the bride and groom, thereby representing “a threat to air safety.”

Drones are gradually becoming established in Germany as a tool of photographers and television crews — though users here need a permit. Drones are cheaper and quieter than helicopters and can be navigated unnoticed over gardens or in front of windows.

They are used for nature shots, major events and disasters, but also for celebrity photography. “They can be very helpful — it works well in the US,” says Heiko Schoenborn of the photo agency WENN.

‘Our Readers Expect Pictures’

But the celebrity journalism community is not in agreement over the use of remote-controlled flying objects. Some photographers still have doubts as to the suitability of flying machines for the work of paparazzi. Hans Paul, who has pursued Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on his moped, sees the use of drones in his line of work as “the greatest nonsense.” The flight time is too short, the risk of detection too high. He favors a paraglider. “I fly one with a backpack motor and can take much better photos,” he says.

For Blickphoto editor Tobias Gysi a wedding like Tina Turner’s is a huge challenge. “Our readers expect pictures,” he says. Celebrities would prefer to control the coverage of the celebration for their own financial gain by entering into exclusive agreements with publishers. When asked how far the press should be able to go to shoot celebrities who don’t want to be photographed, Gysi says: “We believe that an overriding public interest in the wedding justifies the publication.

But Christian Schertz, a Berlin-based media lawyer who represents many celebrities, says that the privacy of Tina Turner has clearly been violated. She could sue for an injunction and damages, he adds.

Wedding photos of the rich and famous have a high market value. The profits, says Schertz, should be skimmed off and dispersed to the affected parties, an idea that has so far not been recognized under the German courts’ interpretation of the country’s privacy laws.

That drones are being used by paparazzi is hardly surprising and entirely predictable.  The piece succinctly describes why.  Turner set up a large red cloth barrier to prevent photographers from using telephoto lenses to photograph what is, after all, a private event.  The pressure on getting a celebrity shot is great, as are the rewards, so it was logical for the paparazzi to take to the air.  In this case the police forced the drone down and confiscated the memory card.  In Europe the privacy protections are significantly greater than Australia.  Bernstein of Leigh v Skyviews & General Ltd [1978] 1 QB 479 makes it clear that the rights of a land owner over his/her land extend only to a height necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of the land. Griffiths J stated: “I can find no support in authority for the view that a landowner’s rights in the air space above his property extend to an unlimited height.”  Technology may have moved along at a pace but the common law has not.  Bernstein dealt with fixed wing aircraft flying over a property and the issue was trespass, the use of the land.  Drones can now hover over land or follow a person as he or she passes through more than one property.  For some drones that is something that can be done for hours.  The issue then becomes privacy, not use of the land.  The law of trespass provides no assistance nor does nuisance as a starting point. Bringing an action for breach of confidence is probably the only viable option but even here the legal gymnastics required to construct a claim in equity prompts the obvious question, why not have a stand alone tort of privacy.  That can be either at common law, not an immediately likely prospect given the conservatism of the appellate jurisdictions generally, or a statutory right, a far better solution.

The Atlantic , in Local Anti-Drone Activism Begins: ‘If They Fly in Town, We Will Shoot Them Down’, reports (in a somewhat whimsical way) on an attempt to permit the residents of Deer Trail Colorado to shoot down drones and provide a bounty for same.  The message beyond the stunt is to highlight the adverse effect on privacy from the FAA loosening regulations on the use of drones.  This is far from a whimisical issue.

It provides:

Charles Krauthammer once predicted that the first American to shoot down a domestic drone would be a folk hero. Phillip Steele, a resident of Deer Trail, Colorado, wants to enable that hero. As the FAA loosens regulations on domestic drone use, Steele has submitted an ordinance to his town’s board of trustees that would create America’s most unusual hunting license: It would permit hunting drones and confer a bounty for every one brought down. Only 12-gauge shotguns could be used as weapons, so the drones would have a sporting chance.

Wouldn’t the hunters be breaking federal law?

Of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if the feds are already watching Steele as a result of his rabble-rousing. But he isn’t dumb. “This is a very symbolic ordinance,” he told a local TV station. “Basically, I do not believe in the idea of a surveillance society, and I believe we are heading that way …. It’s asserting our right and drawing a line in the sand.” Actually, it’s more like drawing a line in the clouds. But you get the idea. 

Whether or not the Deer Trail ordinance passes on August 6, when it’s up for a vote, Americans should expect to see a lot more efforts at the local level to thwart the surveillance state and protect privacy. Some measures will be effectively symbolic. Others will vex or even thwart federal authorities. Privacy activists pondering these measures would do well to study up on the history of the anti-nuclear ordinances the passed in the U.S. and abroad beginning in the 1970s.

By the time Oakland’s especially stringent nuclear-free ordinance was declared unconstitutional in 1990, there were anti-nuclear ordinances on the books in more than 160 localities.

One of the first was passed in Missoula, Montana, in 1978:

nuclear ordinance missoula.png

The biggest jurisdictional victory, for those opposed to nuclear energy, was the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987. It declared nuclear energy verboten in the whole country and barred nuclear ships and submarines from entry into NZ waters. Will a liberal democracy declare itself a surveillance-free zone to escape a defining feature of our era?

Privacy buffs can hope.

Meanwhile, I wonder what U.S. municipality will next declare that it doesn’t want spying to happen within its borders, whether symbolically or by trying to thwart surveillance in some clever way. City leaders probably can’t stop the NSA from monitoring communications that originate locally. But they can, for example, refuse to track any license plates in their jurisdiction. 

The Framers intended the states and the people to act as a check on any excessive concentration of power at the federal level. The surveillance state, as presently constituted, concentrates extraordinary power in the executive branch, has already been abused since 9/11, and is certain to be abused again unless it is reformed. The first priority should be changing the makeup of Congress, so that members are more invested in safeguarding the civil liberties of the people than the power of the executive branch and the bottom lines of defense contractors. But big symbolic statements and small dissents at the local level aren’t to be ignored. The surveillance state should be fought at all levels of government until it is consistent with the Bill of Rights, targeting suspects with a warrant rather than everyone in America.

Residents of Deer Trail shouldn’t actually shoot 12-gauge shotguns into the sky. But they should pass that ordinance. If its symbolism inspires more pragmatic ordinances in other jurisdictions, Steele may himself turn out to be the folk hero for saying, “Down with domestic drones,” at least until, per Senator Rand Paul’s efforts, the FBI needs a warrant to use them.

As it turned out the Deer Trail town board tied 3-3 on whether to approve a drone hunting licence.  The matter now goes to a vote of the residents in November. The report Deer Trail town board has tie vote on drone-hunting proposal, sending issue to town to vote in Nov provides:

DEER TRAIL, Colo. – The Deer Trail town board tied 3-3 in a Tuesday night vote on whether to approve drone-hunting licenses and bounties, sending the proposed ordinance to a vote of residents in November.

But elected leaders are now concerned whether the Eastern Plains town of about 550 residents can afford the special election, 7NEWS’s Amanda Kost reports. Watch 7NEWS at 10 p.m. for the latest updates.

The proposed open season on federal government drones has attracted national attention after Kost first reported on it last month.

The idea also drew a warning from the Federal Aviation Administration that people can be prosecuted or fined for shooting at drones. Last month, the FAA issued a statement saying firing guns at unmanned aircraft could cause them to crash, injuring people or damaging property.

The idea of hunting the federal’s government drones began as one man’s symbolic protest against a surveillance society. But other townspeople embraced the idea as possible magnet for tourism — and revenue — in the tiny community of about 550 residents.

“We do not want drones in town,” said Deer Trail resident Phillip Steel, who drafted the ordinance. “They fly in town, they get shot down.”

Even though it’s against the law to destroy federal property, Steel’s proposed ordinance outlines weapons, ammunition, rules of engagement, techniques, and bounties for drone hunting.

 The ordinates states, “The Town of Deer Trail shall issue a reward of $100 to any shooter who presents a valid hunting license and the following identifiable parts of an unmanned aerial vehicle whose markings and configuration are consistent with those used on any similar craft known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government.”

“Have you ever seen a drone flying over your town?” Kost asked Steel.

“No,” Steel responded. “This is a very symbolic ordinance. Basically, I do not believe in the idea of a surveillance society, and I believe we are heading that way.”

If passed by the town board, Deer Trail would charge $25 for drone hunting licenses, valid for one year.

“They’ll sell like hot cakes, and it would be a real drone hunting license,” said Steel. “It could be a huge moneymaker for the town.”

Deer Trail resident David Boyd is also one of seven votes on the town board. 

“Even if a tiny percentage of people get online (for a) drone license, that’s cool. That’s a lot of money to a small town like us,”said Boyd. “Could be known for it as well, which probably might be a mixed blessing, but what the heck?”

“I’m leaning towards yes,” Boyd added. “I’m good with passing it as long as it’s safe.”

The ordinance specifies that weapons used for engagement of unmanned aerial vehicles would be limited to “any shotgun, 12 gauge or smaller, having a barrel length of 18 inches or greater.” 

Drone hunting licenses would be issued without a background investigation, and on an anonymous basis. Applicants would have to be at least 21 years old and be able to “read and understand English.”

Deer Trail Town clerk Kim Oldfield said, “I can see it as a benefit, monetarily speaking, because of the novelty of the ordinance.”

Oldfield said there’s talk of promoting the ordinance as a novelty and “possibly hunting drones in a skeet, fun-filled festival. We’re the home of the world’s first rodeo, so we could home of the world’s first drone hunt.”

“If they were to read it for the title alone and not for the novelty and what it really is, it sounds scary, and it sounds super vigilante and frightening,” said Oldfield. “The real idea behind it is it’s a potential fun moneymaker, and it could be really cool for our community and we’ve needed something to bring us together, and this could be it.”

Drone hunting is hardly going to make it onto the legislative agenda of any branch of government in Australia. But some form privacy protection should be enacted to deal with the intrusive impact of drones.  That should include a statutory right of privacy.

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