Home·Can Private Investigators Use Drones? It’s Complicated
In this article, we discuss the use of retail drones (quadcopters) within the private investigation sector.
DISCLAIMER We are not attorneys and you should not construe anything in this article as legal advice! Please use common sense and follow the statutes of the individual states in which you practice.
What is a Drone?
A drone is any vehicle that can be piloted remotely for the purposes of reconnaissance or surveillance. There are generally two categories of drones: the quadcopter type and the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The quadcopter is the “civilian” version and is the one most in use today. Quadcopters have many uses and are available to the general public from retailers such as Amazon or Best Buy. Their costs can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. They have a wide range of accessories and upgrades that can change the vehicle’s usability. These accessories can help the user customize and tailor the device to his or her desires. The quality of the images these products produce and the range of these devices is far inferior to that of an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV.
A UAV is generally considered the “aircraft type” of drone and is the type most commonly associated with government agencies and the military. Quadcopters do not have anywhere near the same capabilities as military drones. UAV’s are primarily used for national security and/or military applications. They have very powerful cameras and can even launch weapons on a specific target from the air. Their uses and specs are highly classified and far outside the scope of this article.
In this article, we will only be discussing the far more common quadcopter variety and how it relates to private investigations.
How are Drones Used in Private Investigations?
The military, scholars, engineers, law enforcement agencies, hobbyists, and private investigators all use drones for various purposes and to fulfill a wide range of needs. Within the private investigation sector, drones can be a very beneficial tool.
For example, they can be useful in litigation cases requiring aerial footage of a crime scene or search grid, as well as aiding in the collection of evidence. Furthermore, drones can have surveillance benefits when staking out a possible location, in helping the investigator decide possible ingress and egress locations for a particular business or residence, as well as discovering whether other vehicles may be present at a particular location.
The investigator must exercise caution and discretion when using a drone for surveillance. We will get into some of the legal pitfalls of drone use in a later section.
Drones are also used to assist law enforcement and private investigators with accident reconstructions. Drone mapping software is extremely helpful in the reconstruction process. For example, DroneDeploy offers a quality software program to aid investigations where professional aerial imagery might be useful.
Drones can also allow an investigator the ability to document construction sites, sinkholes, or disaster areas. Aerial drones can also help locate a hidden property in a person’s backyard, the same way law enforcement uses helicopters to search for marijuana grow fields.
Drones are also beneficial for pre-surveillance recon. They can help determine routes available to your subject, and safely assist the private investigator with locating the subjects’ vehicle. When in need of aerial imagery, hiring a private investigator to conduct surveillance of an area is substantially less expensive than hiring a pilot to obtain information and photography within the elements.
Drones allow a private investigator to obtain real-time imagery of properties and are far superior to online tools such as Google Earth.
Why Not Just Use Google Earth?
Google Earth, when used correctly, can be a valuable tool for the private investigator. It can allow the PI to look for changes in the environment, regions of topography and surrounding areas to help assist in a case. It can also allow us to map out roadways and give us a glimpse of a location to aid in determining possible surveillance locations. However, there is currently no way to confirm the authenticity of the footage obtained via Google Earth. Trust in Google is the only validation we have that the information in Google Earth is even real. Because of Google Earth’s lack of any form of real-time validation, one cannot be certain that alterations haven’t taken place. It simply cannot establish a timeline of real-time imagery and events. And that makes it lacking.
For these reasons, Google Earth cannot be considered physical evidence within a court of law and Google Earth alone is usually inadmissible as evidence. However, the use of aerial drone imagery alongside Google Earth can help show how the topography has changed since Google captured the images. For example, construction vehicles may have damaged county sidewalks over time. This damage may have caused a jogger to trip, fall, and sustain injuries. This evidence would be valuable to an attorney in joining the construction company and homeowner in the lawsuit. Evidence of environmental changes can be beneficial to the outcome of the litigating case.
What Are the Legal Requirements of Using Drones in an Investigation?
The requirements for proper and legal use of aerial surveillance within the constraints of the law sits in a gray area. For federal compliance, the FAA requires owners to register any and all unmanned aircraft for recreation and commercial use. Any user must follow this mandate, regardless of intended use. All vehicles MUST be registered with the FAA, with no exceptions.
The local statutes vary from state to state. Within the State of Texas where we practice, the law does not permit drone use for human surveillance. Private property surveillance is permissible with consent from all property owners. This is only permissible if the investigator intends to destroy all obtained imagery. Always check the statutes within the state you are operating to make sure you stay within the law.
The following statute regulates the use of drones for the purposes of investigations in the state of TEXAS. Please consult the statutes in your state to see if they differ from those listed here.
State of Texas Statutes for Drone Use
GOVERNMENT CODE TITLE 4. EXECUTIVE BRANCH SUBTITLE B. LAW ENFORCEMENT AND PUBLIC PROTECTION
CHAPTER 423. USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT
Sec. 423.003. OFFENSE: ILLEGAL USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT TO CAPTURE IMAGE.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately-owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image. (b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor. (c) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the person destroyed the image: (1) as soon as the person had knowledge that the image was captured in violation of this section; and (2) without disclosing, displaying, or distributing the image to a third party. (d) In this section, “intent” has the meaning assigned by Section 6.03, Penal Code.
Sec. 423.004. OFFENSE: POSSESSION, DISCLOSURE, DISPLAY, DISTRIBUTION, OR USE OF IMAGE.
a) A person commits an offense if the person: (1) captures an image in violation of Section 423.003; and (2) possesses, discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses that image. (b) An offense under this section for the possession of an image is a Class C misdemeanor. An offense under this section for the disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of an image is a Class B misdemeanor. (c) Each image a person possesses, discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses in violation of this section is a separate offense. (d) It is a defense to prosecution under this section for the possession of an image that the person destroyed the image as soon as the person had knowledge that the image was captured in violation of Section 423.003. (e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section for the disclosure, display, distribution, or other use of an image that the person stopped disclosing, displaying, distributing, or otherwise using the image as soon as the person had knowledge that the image was captured in violation of Section 423.003.
So, Can We Use a Drone for Investigations or Not?
We read these statutes to mean that investigators CAN use a drone in the course of an investigation IF:
- The footage only shows images of public property and no people are present (or at least identifiable) in the image.
- The investigator destroys any images of people or private property obtained during the course of the flight, as soon as he or she becomes aware that any persons or private property are present in the footage.
- The investigator does not disclose, display, or distribute any footage of people or private property to any third party. This includes even your client(s). In other words, DESTROY ALL FOOTAGE obtained via drone as soon as you become aware there is a person or private property in the image.
- It is a Class C Misdemeanor (and possible revocation of your license) if you fail to follow these statutes.
As long as you destroy any footage you get of people or private property, drones can be a wonderful recon tool. They can help you get the lay of the land, as well as information for a case that you might not be able to get any other way. Use common sense and good judgment. Don’t risk your license by doing something stupid, such as peeking inside the windows of a home. As long as you follow the statutes in your state and you keep your ethics and integrity in check, I don’t see any problem at all with using a drone during an investigation. But, as always, please check with the local statutes in the states where you practice to ensure you remain in compliance.
A Great App to Use
Kitty Hawk powers the FAA’s drone safety app. This app helps streamline drone operations and consolidates all processes into a single platform. Kitty Hawk has partnered with the FAA to create a software program to assist drone operators with airspace safety before flight check. The following is a press release from FAA Executive Director Jay Merkle:
“B4UFLY is now powered by Kittyhawk Dynamic Airspace which is our patented airspace controller for managing real-time flight restrictions, authorizations, and guidance. It’s the core technology in all our products that enables us to build tools that are responsive in real-time to the real-world changes and complexity that is our National Airspace System (NAS).”
This powerhouse combo offers reliable software that provides safety to drone operators and the public. I encourage you to check it out if you intend to use a drone during the course of your investigations. It’s that good.
In conclusion, drones are beneficial for many reasons to various professionals, including the military, law enforcement, educators, and private investigators. Aerial surveillance is a great tool to conduct pre-surveillance, property searches, surveys, accident and incident reconstructions, litigation support, and in the collection of evidence. This makes drones a very attractive tool, not only for private investigators but also for the attorneys and clients who hire them. Again, it is very important to conduct thorough research on the laws and regulations within your state to ensure the safety of the public we serve. As long as you use a drone within the bounds and constraints of the law, they can be a highly effective tool to help you with any investigation.
Can Relationships Overcome Infidelity?
Infidelity and cheating are viable threats to any intimate relationship. Predicaments of an affair are a possibility for anyone, especially during this era of technology and virtual anonymity. Betrayals of relationship integrity, whether through infidelity, cheating, or adultery are, unfortunately, more common than one would think. If the couple has children, the fallout can be even more devastating. The following statistics help to illustrate the possibility of adultery occurring in one’s relationship:
- 40% of unmarried couples and 25% of married couples experience at least one incident of infidelity or cheating at some point within the relationship.
- 70% of all Americans engage in an affair of one type or another at some point in their marital life.
- 45% of men and 35% of women have been either sexually or emotionally intimate with someone other than their committed partner.
- 45-50 % of married women and 50-60% of married men engage in extramarital affairs at some point in their relationships.
That Sounds Bad! Is My Relationship Doomed?
No, but it will take some work. It may seem hopeless to repair a relationship that has been damaged by one of the ultimate betrayals. Cheating is the one error in judgment that is considered to be a deal-breaker for most relationships. Trust is a necessity in all aspects of relationships. It stands to reason, therefore, that a violation of trust, such as infidelity and cheating, can cause great heartache and devastation within a marriage. Infidelity can undermine the bedrock and the very foundation of marriage itself. It can devastate, humiliate, and crumble a once-thriving and loving union.
However, with hard work and a resolved commitment to make the relationship succeed, many relationships can (and do) survive a bout of infidelity or cheating. Just because your partner shows signs of cheating does not mean they are being unfaithful. And, even if your partner is cheating, an instance of infidelity doesn’t mean that your marriage is doomed. Marriage and family therapist Gabrielle Applebury states “adultery is no longer a deal-breaker in many marriages,” and that “70 percent of couples actually stay together after an affair is discovered.”
It takes time, patience, and commitment to overcome this obstacle. Relationship advice author Kevin Darné said, “one of the most important things a betrayed person should do is take some time to determine if they really can forgive.” When both partners are committed to healing the damage and closing the gap caused by a significant breach of trust, many marriages do survive and, with concentrated effort and work, can actually become stronger and experience deeper levels of intimacy.
The Three Types of Intimacy
There are three specific tools to “affair-proof” your relationship: Self Intimacy, Conflict Intimacy, and Affection Intimacy. These three tools can be thought of as the mortar to the building blocks of any relationship. Every recipe for a long-term relationship has at least some of each of these three ingredients.
To start, self-intimacy is knowing what you feel, think, and want, and sharing these with your partner. It is being self-aware. When we are self-aware, we acknowledge what motivates us so that we can make healthier, more mature choices. We use our Emotional Self Awareness to strengthen Self Intimacy. Emotional intimacy is the foundation of any solid relationship. “Emotional intimacy can be defined as allowing yourself to connect more deeply with your partner through actions that express feelings, vulnerabilities, and trust”, says Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City and faculty member at Colombia University. It is being open and vulnerable and expressing that vulnerability to your partner. This brings couples closer together and enhances overall trust. And overall trust enhances intimacy.
Secondly, conflict intimacy is the ability to “do conflict well” in a relationship. This is a key tool that many couples lack. Differences and tension are inevitable in all relationships, especially those weathering infidelity, and being able to talk about these with one another is essential. Conflict intimacy is a marker of how well the couple can overcome tensions and difficulties within the relationship. The more effectively a couple can handle stress and tough times, the stronger and closer that couple is. Being able to “argue well” is a good indicator of how strong your relationship is. When couples can talk with respect and calm, they can begin the process of working through the negative, while simultaneously remaining in touch with the positive, loving aspects of their relationships.
And finally, affection intimacy is the “gravy” in the relationship; it is the sweet, sensual, and passionate/sexual aspects of the relationship. It feeds the love that grew early in the courtship. When a couple is good at Self Intimacy and Conflict Intimacy, their Affection Intimacy grows and flourishes. Their relationship is resilient and can handle differences. More importantly, they have a way of constructively dealing with the inevitable challenges that happen in all relationships. In this context, relationships with high levels of affection intimacy are able to discuss issues of personal integrity. Subsequently, they are better prepared to weather risks to relationship integrity. They are able to present fears and vulnerabilities in a way that does not harbor insecurities or view secrets as acceptable.
The Need for “Love” and the Influence of Commitment Phobia
We are all human. We cannot simply turn off our biological urges and ignore our instincts. However, we ARE able to control our behavior and not give in to our darkest desires. Unfortunately, many of us do succumb to this desire, especially during a vulnerable time in our life. It is very important that we maintain healthy communication within our relationships. We must do this with consistency, respect, understanding, and kindness.
Ultimately, human beings are social creatures; we all crave connection and unity with other people. In relationships that do not meet this need, it can be easy for one to stray. For some, it’s difficult to live up to the expectations of others. For others, commitment phobia and relationship anxiety are real and trying fears that can influence every relationship in their life. This is particularly true in romantic relations.
Some Common Causes of Commitment Phobia
Some common causes of commitment phobia can include:
- Worrying that the relationship will end without notice or signs.
- Fear of not being in the “right” relationship.
- Concern about being in an unhealthy relationship characterized by abandonment, infidelity, abuse, etc.
- Childhood trauma or abuse.
- Unmet childhood needs or attachment issues.
- Complicated family dynamics while growing up
For these reasons, some relationships are especially challenging to preserve, and cheating can result from some of these unresolved issues. Inevitably, not every relationship can withstand the transgression of an affair. Therefore, the unity and intimacy that once thrived in a healthy relationship can become extinguished and a single act of betrayal can develop into a casualty of the marriage.
What Happens if the Cheater Decides to Leave His or Her Spouse and Marry the Outsider?
Well, statistics are not in their favor. For instance, roughly 3% of men who engage in extramarital affairs marry their mistresses. Men who do marry their paramours have a subsequent divorce rate as high as 75%. In fairness, most second and third marriages fail regardless of why the first one ended. A couple beginning their relationship on the betrayal of a sacred vow may have the odds stacked against them. But a marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, including infidelity.
What Are the Next Steps if My Partner Has Cheated?
For couples wishing to repair a marriage upended by infidelity, carefully consider how to proceed. Before choosing to decide whether to stay together or go your separate ways, take the time to heal and understand what was behind the affair. This is not a time to make important family decisions based on emotional responses. A marriage constructed out of unconditional love can overcome many obstacles, but there is also honor in fighting for your vows. In this, honor can heal wounded hearts. The following are significant tools that one may choose to apply in the healing process of their marriage:
- First, seek guidance from a licensed psychologist and/or certified counselor who specializes in marriage and family therapy. Within these sessions, remain focused on the marital problems that built up to the affair. Do not stray away from the underlying problems. Find a therapist that encourages both parties to take accountability, this is imperative. Stay within boundaries. This is not the time to bring up any topics that existed prior to the relationship, such as childhood issues or any comparison of your current partner to those of previous relationships. A good marriage counselor will help you put the affair into perspective and help to identify the contributing factors that led to the affair. He or she can further provide both parties with the tools to rebuild and strengthen the relationship.
- Second, seek help from outside sources such as spiritual leaders, understanding and non-judgmental friends, and reading material that relates to infidelity. You may also consider utilizing resources on any of the issues that contributed to the affair. For example, self-help books, educational materials focusing on issues regarding control, and/or abusive tendencies within the relationship (if applicable) could be beneficial.
- Third, if outside influences played a part in the damage that accrued, such as sexual assault, then other sources of help or information are available. If sexual assault is a factor, then other, more pressing issues of grieving come into play. Educating yourself on the sensitive topic of sexual assault, as well as the effects and aftermath, can help you and your partner overcome this trauma. Take the time to learn how to support your partner in healing from a traumatic situation. The support will certainly enhance the healing process and forge a strong bond to move forward with further reconciliation. “The only effort earned is the effort received. You get what you give, so give it your all.” Attitude is everything in life, thus it is important to reflect positive vibes with a mentality of “I’m willing to do everything I can to make this work.”
- Finally, create a plan to re-establish trust, with the goal being reconciliation. If you were the responsible party and the betrayal is yours, admit your disloyalty to your partner, hold yourself accountable, and seek authentic forgiveness. If it was your partner who committed the infidelity, offer forgiveness when you are truly ready and seek understanding and reconciliation with the helpful tools described above.
You should never consider an act of retaliation by cheating on your partner in kind. The healing process necessitates that both parties work to regain lost trust and respect. Moving forward will probably get worse before it gets better. It can be done, but only if both parties are committed to healing the relationship, despite all the pain and suffering that both parties are feeling. If you can work together and stick it out, the results can be very rewarding. Subsequently, one can achieve a renewed marriage–a partnership that continuously flourishes and will likely exceed any previous expectations and emerge renewed. Ultimately, to move forward successfully, reconciliation must be the end goal for both partners.
How does your divorce affect your children?
Divorce has an impact on everyone in the family. Not only are the parents directly affected (they are, after all, the ones who are making the decision to split up), but the children suffer the collateral damage. Children have no control over what is happening, they are not responsible, and they feel every bit of the turmoil that is going on around them. They often internalize the hurt and the anger and can hold themselves responsible. The married couple is responsible for the outcome. Children are the ones who silently internalize what is happening around them and can even blame themselves for what is happening to their parents. And, except in instances of extreme abuse or neglect, a custodial parent should never alienate the child from the other, non-custodial parent.
Children pay attention
Many times, in the heat of the moment during a divorce, parents tend to focus more on the negative issues between them, especially when there has been infidelity. All of the happy times of the life they shared are forgotten. The problems become the focus. They either do not notice what this does to the children or don’t pay attention to the potential damage they are causing. Children pick up on everything. They are like sponges and absorb all manner of things in their environment. Therefore, it is very important that we, as adults, also keep in mind that what we do has consequences for our children.
Check out this book
There is a book by Eleanor E. Maccoby and Robert H. Mnookin titled Dividing the Child: Social and Legal Dilemmas of Custody. It is published by Harvard University Press and expertly outlines this phenomenon in detail. If this topic interests you or you are concerned about how your children may be affected by your divorce, please check it out. You can pick up a copy on Amazon.
How we can help
If you or a loved one is facing a domestic dilemma, including litigation, we truly sympathize. Legal and family turmoils, such as child custody and divorce, can be very difficult emotionally and stressful for everyone in the family. When you add children to the mix, things can become extremely daunting and complex. It’s no secret that child custody and divorce proceedings are front-and-center to some of the most stressful times of our lives. Red Door Investigations fully supports the 50/50 child custody rule. Children need the love and attention of both parents. Even more so when things in the home are confusing and scary for them.
Unfortunately, with child custody and divorce situations, sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control. There is no other private investigation company that wants to help and support you more in your time of need. We have the means, the tools, and the methods to help during this stressful and emotional time. Leave it to us; our professional private investigators will work to uncover any physical evidence that could help your case. We will use our experience and expertise to help your divorce and/or child custody case reach a successful outcome.
Does Your Spouse Show Any of These Signs of Cheating?
Has your significant other been acting differently than usual and you are wondering whether he or she might be cheating?
There are many behavior “signs” of cheating and infidelity. If you ask 100 experts, you will probably get 100 different answers. I did a pretty quick Google search and found countless lists similar in content to this one. The sources ranged from Psychology Today to Oprah. Many of the behaviors listed in these articles were pretty off-the-wall. However, when I began to look a bit deeper, I started noticing some trends and commonalities. The 20 behavior signs outlined in this article pretty accurately reflect a solid mixture of the behavior cues you should watch out for.
- The first thing to look for is changes in your spouse’s behavior and/or schedule. Staying out late, “working” more than usual, taking “business” trips that seem to come out of the blue with little notice or warning, and so on. These small deviations from your spouse’s normal schedule are usually the first clue that something is amiss.
- Another common sign of a cheating spouse is an unusual preoccupation with protecting their cell phone. This one is huge because it is often an indicator they are hiding something.
- Is your spouse or loved one more concerned about their looks or appearance than usual? They could be trying to impress someone new.
- There are more arguments in your relationship and the arguments are more frequent.
- They are spending more time away from home. This not only applies to work but can also mean going out with friends or co-workers more often.
- Your spouse or loved one receives phone calls during all hours of the day and/or night. They may also seek a safe haven away from the house or, more importantly, away from you to answer these calls. Increased need/desire for “privacy” can mean they are doing things they don’t want you to know about.
- They tell little white lies about where they are going. For instance, they say they need to run to the store but you find they are actually somewhere else, like at the gym.
- This one may seem obvious, but a man taking Viagra for the first time or a woman starting birth control.
- You smell perfume or cologne on your significant other that is not yours.
- Being overly private and/or protective of any electronic device, such as a computer, tablet, etc.
- You find a spare change of clothes in the car.
- Credit card receipts from purchases you don’t recognize. This is oftentimes a sign they are going out without you or buying gifts for someone else.
- A sudden and drastic change, up or down, in sexual behavior, desires, or intimacy in your relationship.
- Frequent and sudden anger outbursts toward you that have nothing to do with you. This is often a subconscious attempt to “distance” themselves from you emotionally or the relationship as it is now.
- There is a reluctance of intimacy or poor excuses for their behavior to be reluctant.
Common Things a Cheating Spouse May Say
- “He/she is just a friend.”
- “I am just not in the mood lately.”
- “I just need space.”
- “It’s not you, it’s me.”
- “Please respect my privacy.”
In closing, it is important to remember that seeing some of these signs in your mate is not proof that your partner is seeing someone else. More importantly, do not lose sight of the fact that you have invested a great deal of emotional energy into your relationship and, if the worst does end up being the case, please maintain hope that not all is lost. If you do happen to find irrefutable evidence of infidelity or cheating and you want to overcome this breach of trust, it is not hopeless. Couples overcome infidelity all the time. If you have any desire to work it out with your spouse, then I strongly encourage you to try. Just because you see some of these signs in your relationship does NOT mean that your partner is being unfaithful.
Furthermore, this list is by no means complete. There are many signs of a cheating spouse that do not make this list and there are instances where your spouse can show many of these behaviors and nothing is going on. The only way to know for sure is to get some proof. If you are unsure how to proceed, I would recommend hiring a local private investigator to gather some evidence for you before you accuse your significant other of any wrongdoing. Usually, most of our clients already know the truth and are just seeking reassurance and verification that what they suspect is actually what is happening. Follow your gut, but don’t make waves where there are none.
Shaun is the owner of Red Door Investigations. He has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington and is a licensed pilot and certified scuba instructor.