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California's Paparazzi Have Had Their Wings Clipped A Bit


California's paparazzi have had their wings clipped a bit with a new law aimed at curbing the use of drones to spy on celebrities' private lives. Gregory McNeal is an expert on drone technology. He's created an app that tells drone operators where they are allowed to fly, and he joined us to talk about it.

Thank you for joining us.

GREGORY MCNEAL: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Celebrities are, of course, a part of life out here in Los Angeles. And we have laws aimed at protecting celebrities from dangerous chases by paparazzi. This is about a reasonable expectation of privacy. For instance - some famous pictures were taken of Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux's marriage in her backyard.

MCNEAL: Yeah, so aerial images of someone in their backyard are traditionally not protected by any existing laws almost anywhere in the country. What this new bill says is if you get an aerial image of someone and you do it using a device - for example a drone - that image would be unlawful only if it violated the person's sort of expectation of privacy by invading their private, personal, intimate, familial activities and a reasonable person would be offended by it.

So an example where you have a large gathering of people in your backyard, that definitely wouldn't be covered by this because you've exposed sort of to everyone at that party what's going on. So it wouldn't be a private, intimate, familial activity. Maybe that wedding wouldn't, but the honeymoon might be.

MONTAGNE: Even if the honeymoon was in the backyard?

MCNEAL: Even if the honeymoon was in the backyard, so long as it's really just you and, you know, your bridegroom at the honeymoon.

MONTAGNE: Well, that gets to an interesting point. This law would apply to me or you, you know, everybody we know. But the difference is you probably don't have anybody interested in sending a drone down, taking pictures of us.

MCNEAL: Right, so the law's being described as a paparazzi law. But it protects anyone from having these types of private, intimate images gathered about them when someone uses a device such as a drone.

MONTAGNE: Just a last question - do you think this is the beginning of possibly a prolonged battle of drones and airspace and privacy rights?

MCNEAL: I think that we're going to see a lot more of these bills coming up over the next few years. And the reason for that is that there are a bunch of unanswered questions. So it's obvious that an airplane can fly over your house at a 1,000 or 500 feet. What's not clear is who owns the air 35 feet above your ground or, you know, 45 feet above your property. That's a big unanswered question. And so while this bill has addressed the privacy concerns, there are still this sort of hazard, safety, privacy, nuisance concerns that have been unaddressed that I think we'll see more bills addressing.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much.

MCNEAL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Pepperdine Law School professor, Greg McNeal.


Wow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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