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Atherton: Are drones a threat to privacy?

Original post made on Jul 12, 2016

After discussing a number of safety, noise and privacy concerns — including that drone technology could allow would-be burglars to virtually "case out" a home — Atherton's City Council has asked the town attorney to draft regulations on the use of drones in town.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, July 12, 2016, 10:54 AM

Comments (18)

a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 12, 2016 at 12:53 pm

Discuss the regulation of drones. Are you serious ???
YES they are a security and privacy threat.
YES they are unsafe.
YES they are noisy. Considering the lack of ability for ANYONE to regulate SurfAir, other commercial aircraft, helecopters, and other NOISY aircraft, are you sure you want to PERMIT drones ?
Surely, Town Council, you have better things to do than spend much time CONSIDERING regulation.

Posted by womanl
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Jul 12, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Drones are an absolute invasion of privacy! Hanging up my laundry in the back yard on a beautiful day and I hear this noise.... look to see this thing hovering above our yard...if i had a flame thrower attached to my arm I certainly would have used it then.
Right, lets invite big brother and all the evil offspring into our laundry basket!

Posted by Marty
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 12, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Thank you memberone and womanl. You are so right that I can't imagine why anyone would disagree. Our day to day lives are becoming more and more impacted by noise and other intrusions. Our safety and privacy are as important as our protection from unwarranted invasions of our security. Further, we do not need a university degree to know how adversely noise harms our health and that of our children. Unfortunately, there are those who would sell us out to the highest bidder. What that means is we must be increasingly vigilant against those who would disrupt the quality of our lives, privacy and general well-being. If we are to remain a desirable and enjoyable place to live, we must stand up for ourselves.

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 12, 2016 at 9:14 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


apparently my previous statements weren't "sensitive" enough.

Seriously folks, this is this big a deal?

Posted by kris
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 12, 2016 at 9:22 pm

Menlo voter, you seem to think it's a big deal. Really? Two negative comments?
Do you have an axe to grind? If so, what is it?

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 13, 2016 at 7:11 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


read what I said again. I DON'T think it's a big deal. And certainly not worth the level of hysteria projected in the three comments above.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 13, 2016 at 7:47 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If you don't want drones over your home when it is on fire then you should notify the Fire District accordingly since your Fire District is one of the first fire agencies in the Nation to receive a FAA Certificate of Authorization for its use of drones(UAS).

Here are some excerpts from the MPFPD's UAS Policy:
"370.3 POLICY
It shall be the policy of those personnel of the MPFD who are trained in the use of the UAS to use this resource to protect the lives and property of citizens of MPFD and first responders in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including but not limited to applicable State and Federal Constitution and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.

The use of a UAS can support first responders in emergency situations which would benefit from an aerial perspective enabling responders to detect dangers that could otherwise not be seen and support the incident commanders in tactical decision applications. "

"a) When the UAS is being flown, operators will take steps to ensure the camera is focused on the areas necessary to the mission and to minimize the inadvertent collection of data about uninvolved persons or places.

b) MPFD will maintain a website location and phone number for public input to address citizens’ concerns and recommendations.

c) The use of the UAS will be limited to the authorized missions described herein."

d) The UAS will not be equipped with any weapons.

e) The authorized missions for the MPFD UAS are:

1. In response to specific requests from local, state or federal fire authorities for fire response and prevention

2. In response to any transportation type emergencies as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations Chapter 49.

3. Search and Rescue (SAR) missions as defined in California Government Code Section 26614

4. Structural collapse & building evaluations for rescue, safety and occupancy
5. Response to hazardous materials spills

6. Disaster response and recovery to include natural or human caused disasters including a full overview of a disaster area for post incident analysis and documentation.

7. Public Education development & training videos & documentation

8. Training missions as authorized by the Training Certificate of Authorization

9. Explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) missions

10. Any missions that deploy fire based tactical paramedics for on scene evaluation and monitoring.

11. Public safety and life preservation missions to include barricaded suspects, hostage situations, active shooters, apprehension of armed and dangerous and/or violent fleeing suspects, and high-risk search warrants"


UAS Commanders, operators and observers will consider the protection of individual civil rights and the reasonable expectation of privacy as a key component of any decision made to deploy the UAS. Each UAS operator and observer will ensure that operations of the UAS are consistent with local, state, and federal law."

So if you do not want this capability used when your house is on fire just let the Fire District know that you want the airspace above your home to be restricted to smoke and embers,

Posted by YouPeopleHaveNoIdea
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 13, 2016 at 3:56 pm

If you folks are going to get so bent out of shape over a perceived invasion of privacy then you should start petition Google to remove Street View and Earth View. They both have better resolution than almost anything that is commercially available on a drone that is within the normal price range of the average consumer. Most cameras have about the same resolution quality as an old tube TV and show very little detail. Those that have HD cameras don't even have the zoom capability of a smart phone. So, looking in your backyard at anything higher than about 20 ft becomes useless and again, Google Earth view is better. For those of you thinking that you can look in someone's house; tests have proven that the glare from windows doesn't allow them to see through windows from more than about 10 feet out. When they can actually see what's inside it is so close and so loud that everyone in the house will know it's there. A person will have better luck just strolling right up to your house and looking through your window than they would with a drone. If you see a drone hovering you can set your ego aside and realize the odds of them caring what you are doing is about nil. They are more than likely just enjoying the view of the world at 100+ feet. Before you start banning things and imposing your will for some perceived injustice that has never even happened to you, go talk to someone with a drone and see what the view is actually like. The view is not as great as all the hyped up professionally made videos out there that are making the masses think some beautiful panoramic 4K image is the norm for what pilots see.

Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 13, 2016 at 4:59 pm

Using drones over someone else's property is already illegal in California under AB 856, which was signed into law by Governor Brown last year.
Web Link

The onus for the law came out of concern for one of California's most important industries: celebrities. :-)

Apparently, paparazzis started flying drones around celebrity houses and the legislature banned the practice to protect their privacy.

Essentially, this means that if anyone in California spots a drone over their property line, they could call the cops and the drone owner could be cited for trespassing.

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 13, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Thanks Apple. Another issue that's actually a non-issue.

Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardi�a
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 13, 2016 at 7:14 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardi�a is a registered user.


If they device is LEGALLY flown (FAA) then it does NOT fall under the law.

So if it is REGISTERED drone and flown withing the FAA requirements it's legal......

Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 13, 2016 at 11:59 pm


In United States v. Causby, the Supreme Court established that anything above the minimum safe flight altitude is within the public domain, even if it's over private property. The FAA has full control over that airspace. But under that altitude, air rights are controlled by the landowner.

The government ultimately had to pay Mr. Causby for flying so low over his property. This was compensation for a property easement of Causby's air rights. The planes were flying as low as 83 feet.

The FAA may say it has jurisdiction over these low altitude air rights, but courts have never recognized that.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2016 at 6:11 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The FAA released in June its final rules for the operation of what it describes as “small unmanned aircraft,” limiting their weight to 55 pounds (25 kilograms) and to flying only during day at less than 400 feet within visual line-of-sight of operators."

"(b) The altitude of the small unmanned aircraft cannot be higher than 400 feet above ground level, unless the small unmanned aircraft:

(1) Is flown within a 400-foot radius of a structure; and

(2) Does not fly higher than 400 feet above the structure's immediate uppermost limit."

Sure looks like the FAA has preempted any local regulation of drones including drones flying at low altitude.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2016 at 6:19 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Further comment in the Federal Drone rules:

"Adjudicating private property rights is beyond the scope of this rule. However, the provisions of this rule are not the only set of laws that may apply to the operation of a small UAS. With regard to property rights, trespassing on property (as opposed to flying in the airspace above a piece of property) without the owner's permission may be addressed by State and local trespassing law. As noted in section III.K.6 of this preamble, the FAA will address preemption issues on a case-by-case basis rather than doing so in a rule of general applicability."

Posted by Bedevere
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jul 14, 2016 at 9:27 am

Drones are fun. We are lucky to live here where our properties are big enough to fly them at home. As long as the drone and pilot are FAA compliant and not flying over anyone elses property, there isn't a problem.

Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2016 at 10:45 am


Another area that local governments have the right to regulate drones is when their use interferes with local public safety activities. Utah just recently passed a law that restricting drone use near wildfires. Firefighters can now disable and crash drones if necessary.

Web Link

The law's passage was spurred by several drones that interfered with firefighters trying to put out a wildfire. The firefighting aircraft had to be grounded when several drones entered the area. Several million more dollars in fire damage resulted from not being able to use the firefighting aircraft.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 14, 2016 at 11:58 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Apple - Now that drone rules have been promulgated by the FAA the Fire District will simply request a TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) over an site where it wants to use its drones so as to prohibit all aircraft from the area that the Fire District needs for the safe and unimpeded operation of its drones.

Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 14, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Laws are only as good as their ability to be enforced. The fire district can set up a TFR, but then first responders have to enforce the TFR to make it effective.

If you read the Utah law article, a TFR would have done nothing. The county sheriff still haven't found any of the drone owners who interfered with firefighting operations. First responders do not have time to track down TFR violators and detain them when lives and property are threatened. Moreover, it's unclear whether local police are empowered to arrest and detain based on FAA violations.

What will save lives and property is the ability to disable interfering drones immediately.

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