The World of Drones and Their Implementation in Modern Surveillance

With technology forever changing in today’s society, we have seen the implementation of drones equipped with high resolution video cameras used in many applications.  Whether it be a hobbyist, recreational, or business, drones have opened up many opportunities for viewing life from a different perspective.   One of these perspectives is the use during surveillance operations.  As described in Popular Mechanics in September 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has classed usable airspace into four classes:

Class G: 0-1200 feet  (400 feet or lower for personal drone flights)

Class B/Airports: C, D: 0-10,000 feet

Class A: 18,000-60,000 feet

Class E: All undefined airspace below 18,000 feet; everything above 60,000 feet

*for a more detailed description of each class, you can research the FAA website or  (September 2013)

I’ve listed below a few Pros and Cons about using drones during many surveillance operations:


  • Increased visibly in otherwise unseen areas: When operating in a rural area or area that you may not completely fit in, using a drone to do a “fly over” to observe details such as building location, property layout, or vehicles parked at a specific location, could be performed.
  • Gather ariel video/photos of areas of interest: Drone flights could be used to cover a particular area of interest, which would enable you to obtain a more complete ariel view of a particular location in a much faster time period than driving through the area.
  • Use gathered photographs for future planning:  Overhead imagery is frequently used during planning mission for future operations.  By conducting a drone flight over an area of interest, those photos and videos would most likely greatly benefit any future planning of that area.
  • Continue collection operations during low light hours: During low light hours, drone surveillance could continue to be conducted to monitor an area of interest, when driving into the area would likely compromise the operation.  Many environments to include rural areas, are very difficult to conduct surveillance in during low light hours.  If a surveillance operations cannot be continued due to low light hours, it is possible that a drone flight over the area could result in the continued monitoring of the area.


  • Possible compromise: With any form of surveillance, you have to remain discrete for long periods of time to not compromise your operations.  Conducting any drone fly overs too close to the area of interest, could lead to compromising the operation.  Drones are no different from any electronic device, they can and do fail sometimes.  It is very important that you have a plan in place, in case your drone crashes close to or within your area of interest.
  • Known/unknown air space restrictions: During any drone flight operations, it would be important to know any air space restrictions in your area of operation.  With increased restrictions on personal drone use, it is likely that you could find yourself in an unknown restricted air space area.
  • Altitude restrictions: As listed above, there are dedicated altitude restrictions for different types of air space use.  Due to these restrictions, personal drone flights would be restricted to 400 feet or lower for personal use.
  • Right to privacy violations: We’ve all heard of the stories on the news when paparazzi climbs a tree and takes photographs of a person in the privacy of their home or fenced yard.  These same possible violations could occur if flying a drone over someone’s property and recording a person’s actions.
  • Limitations on enhanced surveillance collection techniques:  In the world of private investigation, there are many restrictions on technical surveillance techniques.  It would be very important to research the local laws in your area about technical surveillance collection.  It is also important to understand the different between expectation of privacy and public collections.

Overall, there are many pros and cons to using a drone during surveillance operations.  With the increased popularity of personal drones, many are calling for additional restrictions and guidelines.  Both these restrictions and guidelines could hinder the use of drones in the surveillance arena.  However, using a drone in the correct scenario to continue collecting video/photos in an area that you normally would have lost your surveillance capabilities could be a game changer in the future.

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