In the past, private investigators had to put a lot of resources (and in some cases their life) on the line, to solve problems. Today, technology has led to an evolution in the way private investigators do their jobs. Social media, security cameras, cell phones, and more recently, drones means that many investigators no longer have to engage in physical surveillance.

Drones have been around for a while but they are still only just growing in popularity. In the West, the use of drones has been in the news for various reasons. While many use them for recreational purposes, various arms of law enforcement and crime investigation units are using them to fast track closure in tough cases.

“The market for drone technology and aerial surveillance is constantly expanding and we are seeing tech companies keeping pace with the rising uptake. Drones have a wide range of applications but perhaps the most far reaching effect can be seen in law enforcement where drones are changing the way investigators and the police are doing their jobs”- Redshift by Autodesk – More on drone technology and aerial surveillance.

How Private Investigators Use Drones

A drone can help a private investigator to discreetly monitor conversations between two people in public by flying high above (up to 75 feet away).  Drones can also be used to aerially survey locations that are hard or dangerous to access on foot to find evidence for suspected criminal activity.

Private investigators are also using drones to catch cheating spouses, dishonest employees or suspected criminal masterminds. The drones remove the need for foot-based observation and allow investigators to get a close-up view of a suspect, catch them in the act and acquire video evidence. Using a drone is equally safer and cheaper for investigators in comparison to hiring a plane or a helicopter.

What The Rules Say

In The US

Charles Schumer is one of the high profile names leading the calls for investigation into the ethics of drone usage. The Senator and others have called for federal regulations on drones, going as far as proposing a ban on drone usage by private investigators. However, the legislation around the use of drones in the US remains muddled. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) actually prohibits the use of drones for commercial use.

In The UK

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulation mentions that drones weighing over 20kg cannot be used in the UK airspace except in areas classified as danger areas.  Even for drones under the weight limit suggested, users have to seek permission if the drones are to be used commercially. The permission, however, only involves demonstrating competence.  There are also rules for height and nearness to public life.

How do the rules impact private investigations?

There have been numerous examples which highlight the fact that private investigators are regularly using drones to solve problems. Savvy private investigators know how to use drones without breaking the law. The UK law on drones is more straightforward, allowing private detectives to simply demonstrate competence and obtain permission to use drones in their activities. The situation in the USA is less clear as private investigators have to find ways around the law to carry out their activities.

The reality, however, is that drones will remain a vital tool for solving crimes and ensuring law enforcement. We are still in the early days and a lot could still change in the nearest future, helping private investigators to deliver even better results.