Are Drones Peeping on Miami-Area Residents? | Miami New Times


It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a...Peeping Drone?

"I thought maybe it's a kid somewhere, but I looked around and there's nobody outside."
Not that kind! The other kind!
Not that kind! The other kind! Conall via Flickr
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At first, the subdued, high-pitched buzzing sounded like a chorus of winged insects.

It was a late afternoon in early October, and Wanda Jaiman was standing on the terrace of her North Beach apartment when she saw its source, but what she saw was no bug.

It was a drone.

Jaiman, who's 58, tells New Times she was talking on the phone and lounging on her second-floor terrace overlooking Byron Street facing east when she saw what she assumed to be a toy helicopter.

"I thought maybe it's a kid somewhere, but I looked around and there's nobody outside," she recalls.

Jaiman looked on, studying what she would come to realize was a roughly foot-long aircraft, buzz-buzz-buzzing just feet from her face.

It wasn’t flying past her apartment or moving to and fro. It simply hovered. It was an early October afternoon, and the first visit from the drone would not be the last. In fact, she says, it returned two other times that same day. And with each return trip, it idled in the vicinity of her balcony, its camera pointed toward the interior of her abode.

"The third time is when I got concerned," Jaiman says. "It actually seemed like it was testing me. It was hovering but coming toward me."

At that point, Jaiman says, she began to take steps backward into her apartment, the drone inching toward her with each step before she closed the sliding glass door.

After eventually deducing that the remote-controlled aircraft did not belong to a real estate agent scoping out the property or a utility provider trying to get a look at nearby cables, she couldn't help but wonder: Could it be a peeping drone?

After Miami Beach police and an official from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) basically said ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ unless she recorded the drone in the act, Jaiman turned to her neighbors on the hyperlocal social-media platform NextDoor.

"Today a drone at three different times hovered right in front of my balcony incredibly low. I was literally frightened that [it] was going to come at me. At one point I had to run inside the house. It was very scary," she wrote on October 6. "Has anyone else experienced this?"

And reader, she wasn't alone.

One man who lives on 71st Street two blocks away commented that he'd had a similar encounter. "I took out my AR15 and pointed it at the done," he wrote, "and it's never been back."

Inquiries from New Times to area law enforcement agencies, including the Miami Beach and Miami-Dade police departments, about the frequency of reported incidents involving suspicious drone activity did not turn up any instances.

Plenty of commenters on Jaiman's post about the uneasy drone encounter suggested she either shoot it out of the sky or attempt to sabotage it.

To do so, however, would violate federal law.

Drones are considered unmanned aircraft and are regulated by the FAA. And according to federal law, any "conduct" that is "likely to endanger the safety of any such aircraft" is illegal — and punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

So to our NextDoor pal with the AR-15: Stop that.

That said, while the laws surrounding drone operation vary from state to state and are currently in flux, there are some limits on how much of one's privacy a drone can legally nudge up against. For instance, per federal law, a hobbyist operating a drone must be within 400 feet of said device while it's in flight. Additionally, Florida law prohibits "a person, a state agency, or a political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance without his or her written consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists."

There's some wiggle room regarding the expectation of privacy, but suffice to say Jaiman probably has a case. On the other hand, she says her nosy drone hasn't returned since October.

Before we're through here, however, Miami resident Daniel Cruz would like a word.

Cruz, who's 47, was walking from the bedroom to the kitchen of his corner unit on the 34th floor of the Loft II building on NE Second Avenue downtown at around 10:30 p.m. one night in January when he saw the blinking lights and heard the buzz-buzz-buzzing.

An amateur photographer who's generally familiar with how civilians are permitted to use drones — including the fact that downtown is a no-fly zone because of its proximity to Miami International Airport — Cruz was taken aback.

"I immediately went out [on the balcony], and I saw it kind of disappear around the corner," he recounts. "It's 10:30 at night — what do you think they're doing at that time? Not real estate. The first thing that came to mind was some voyeuristic person. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what they were doing."

Cruz adds that he saw a drone the following week, as well — though he can't be certain it was the same aircraft.

"You want to take some aerials of downtown at night? That's great. Beautiful. I'm all about photography," he says. "But floor by floor and looking into windows? That's creepy."
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