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New law allows drones to photograph people basking in their back yards

The Federal Aviation Administration received 764 reports of encounters between drones and other aircraft between November and August, with 23 of those in Arizona. (Photo by Don McCullough via flickr/Creative Commons)

(Photo by Don McCullough via flickr/Creative Commons)

Got a drone? Planning to get one?

A new law signed Wednesday by Gov. Doug Ducey will affect where you can — and cannot — fly it. And it voids any attempt by cities and counties to impose their own rules.

Other bills given the governor’s approval include:

– Requiring police to keep secret the addresses and other identifying information of witnesses to crimes. The move is designed to protect privacy but could impair the ability of reporters to track down and interview witnesses as well as lawyers for people who have not yet been formally charged with a crime.

– Giving business owners clearer power to remove “service animals” that cause problems. They cannot prohibit dogs and miniature horses that patrons need but need not tolerate bad behavior by the animals.

Ducey also vetoed legislation crafted by Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, that would have required the Legislature to issue a press release if spending increases exceed growth or inflation.

The governor said he supports the general goal. But he called the measure “unclear and vague” and said it doesn’t take into account spending that’s actually done to reduce existing debt.

The new law on drones — more formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles — comes as the price of the devices has come down, making them more readily available for everything from businesses wanting to make deliveries and shoot aerial videos to hobbyists who might be more interested in having an onboard camera peer into a neighbor’s rear yard.

Much of the push for the measure came from companies like Amazon that are hoping to use drones for delivery. But company officials said they feared that could be precluded by a patchwork of local laws.

Those fears are not unfounded.

For example, the Town of Paradise Valley voted last year to ban people from flying drones over private property without permission. The ordinance also says those who want to use a UAV over public property must first obtain a special-even permit from the town.

SB1449, which takes effect Aug. 6, invalidates any existing local laws. And it bars communities from adopting new ones.

But some of the debate concerned questions of privacy — or lack thereof.

The original version crafted by Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would have made it illegal to take pictures of someone in a rear yard without that person’s expressed written permission. But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said that misstates existing privacy law.

He said courts have said the central question is whether someone has an “expectation of privacy” in a given area. On one hand, someone sitting in the front yard clearly does not; a bedroom is a different story.

Farnsworth said there is no expectation of privacy in a rear yard, which is why someone who has a two-story house is free to peer into the rear yard of a next-door neighbor. In fact, he said, the neighbor is even entitled to get on a ladder and peer over the wall “for hours on end” without violating the law.

The final measure also does not include language that would have made it a crime to videotape a “critical facility.” That includes everything from water and sewage treatment plants to power substations, railroad facilities and courts.

But it does allow cities to ban their use in parks — provided that at least one park does permit drones to be flown. That does not apply, however, if a community has only one park.

Other measures signed Wednesday by Ducey include:

– Ensuring that grandparents who care for children removed from their homes by the Department of Child Safety can get welfare payments;

– Expanding the definition of “burglary” to include breaking into a gas pump or other machine that accepts credit and debit cards to install a device that records the card number and PIN so someone can steal the information;

– Allowing doctors licensed in other states to practice in Arizona for limited periods of time;

– Making it easier for distant relatives to adopt children who have been placed with them in foster care;


  1. Whooo whooooo, lol

  2. Does anyone know of any organizations here in AZ
    That will help support someone that can show anytime, anywhere on our jobsites there are illegals are being used and laws being broken. It’s so easy , Donations to a organization that would help in why we are out if jobs. Keep on allowing new home builders benefiting from this.?????

  3. Re the drone law:
    The difference, Mr. Farnswoth, is that if you have a neighbor who is a voyeur and is gawking/stalking your family in your backyard, you may be able to erect barriers (fences, trees, etc) to impede their illness. Short of covering you entire backyard with a canopy (think: military camouflage for parked tanks, etc.) there is no screening from a drone flying 200 ft. up.

    If, as you say, there’s “…expectation of privacy…” In one’s backyard, why do they call them “Privacy Walls?”

    Let’s see how egalitarian you’d be if one of your voyeuristic constituents in fact parked a ladder next to your backyard (fence/wall) and took pictures of you and your family for, “…hours a on end..”

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