OAK ISLAND, N.C. — Drones are changing our lives.
“This is the town of Oak Island, please stay off the dunes,” a drone could recently be heard across a North Carolina beach.
This was not a scene in a Terminator film. It was a lifeguard up in the sky.
Oak Island operates the drone and uses it to monitor its beach and sand dunes.
It’s operated, and in some cases voiced, by pilot Sean Barry.
Barry has flown over 300 missions since March for Oak Island.
“We fully support our police department, our fire department, and our local water rescue,” said Barry.
“Public safety, infrastructure, overall beach health,” said Mike Emory, the communications manager for the town.
He claimed that Oak Island leaders use Barry as well as his drone in a variety role.
It is becoming more common in cities all over the country.
According to The Center for the Study of the Drone, over 1,500 U.S. state and local public safety agencies have purchased a drone in the past 10 years.
“Right now, the crucial difference is between drones that view things that are in public versus drones that view things that are private,” said Ian Farrel, a law professor at the University of Denver.
He is a specialist in the Fourth Amendment which protects Americans against unwarranted search or seizure.
“A drone that views you when you’re at the beach, a public beach or public sand dunes is not violating your reasonable expectations of privacy. What will become more challenging is if or when drones are being used to look, for instance, in people’s backyard or through their windows,” said Farrel.
Emory has already been answering questions from Oak Island friends and neighbors.
“That’s obviously one of the biggest apprehensions that a municipality may have when they start a program like this,” said Emory. “Our drone only flies in public airspaces. It only views things that are of town concern and any of the video and footage that we get, it’s a public record anyway.”
Farrel believes that privacy issues will be resolved in the end by our courts.
“Just about everything now could be accessible and unless you’re sort of thinking ahead to guard against it, the courts may say, ‘Well it’s not reasonable of you to expect privacy in this because you didn’t take those steps to retain your privacy,’” said Farrel.
All sides agree drones will be an increasingly important part of our lives over the next few years.
They agree that the technology can be used safely.
“Any incident that comes with the preservation of life, that is the utmost priority. We’re here to help save lives, find people, find lost people and that is the utmost priority, everything else kind of trickles down after that,” said Barry.
Don’t go near the dunes.