I’m a complete stickler for the rules. Whenever I fly my drone in a new place, I check all drone rules to make sure I can fly safely. However, with quickly changing laws and regulations, there are plenty of times where the law hasn’t quite caught up with the realities of flying a drone. Police officers are often the people who are required to interpret laws and regulations – and they are becoming more and more complicated. There have been people online who have had their drones confiscated for a variety of reasons.
Police can confiscate your drone if they believe the drone has been used to commit a crime or you have flown near sensitive government facilities or airports. In some countries, bringing your drone into the country without permission can cause confiscation.
In this article, we will look at the reasons they have had their drones confiscated and how you can protect your drone while you are out and about.
Here is a summary of all of the different examples on YouTube of a drone being confiscated by police officers and other security officials.
|Mavic Pro police confiscation||YouTube link|
|Mavic pro in National Park||YouTube link|
|Drone confiscated in area 51||YouTube link|
|Chennai airport confiscation||YouTube link|
|Nicaragua airport customs||YouTube link|
|Philippines drone confiscation||YouTube link|
|African confiscation||YouTube link|
|Confiscated at a festival||YouTube link|
|Indian customs||YouTube link|
|Myanmar customs||YouTube link|
I have been very lucky that I have never had to deal with police officers when flying my drone. The most common reason I have stopped my flight abruptly is due to a change of conditions and when people tell me that I’m not able to fly in a certain area.
Two particular occasions stick in my mind. The first one was when I was attempting to capture some distant images of a festival. I was not flying over anyone or near any of the festival grounds. I kept my distance but was asked by the security officers to land my drone quickly. The other time was when a public member told me that I could not fly in the parklands I was flying in and asked me to move to a different area – where unmanned aerial vehicles were allowed.
Both of these times, I graciously acknowledged that they had asked me to stop flying and moved to another area where I could fly without any issues.
I was completely within the local laws and regulations but, sometimes, it is just best to apologise and move your flight somewhere else. As drone pilots, I feel we are responsible for ensuring that everyone feels comfortable with our presence, even if they may be incorrect.
Here are all of the reasons why your drone may be confiscated.
What could cause your drone to be confiscated
Drones are very easy to spot because they are loud, easy to pinpoint and often have bright lights which attract attention. The attention is often just members of the public very interested in what you are doing. Sometimes it is attention that could get you into trouble. A disgruntled member of the public can easily call security or police, which can further escalate the problem.
Flying your drone over sensitive areas is one of the easiest ways to get your drone confiscated, as these areas are often highly monitored by police and other security services.
Drone used over sensitive areas
Places like highways, schools, railways, and other government infrastructure can be considered sensitive areas.
Flying in a national park
Flying a drone in a national park is incredibly tempting because of the awesome natural environment. Unless you have specific prior authorisation, you will not be able to fly in a national park.
Here is an example of someone who tried to fly a national park but was quickly approached by the National Park Services.
the FAA has authority over all national park airspace, and the National Park Service can restrict flight access on their property. This restriction includes over 60 rivers, hundreds of historic sites and other infrastructures such as biking trails and monuments.
The penalties are relatively severe, and you can get up to 6 months of jail time and a fine of $5000. So, flying in a national park will certainly be an expensive day out if you get caught – it is best not to fly in national parks whatsoever. You can get just as good shots from just outside the national parks and flying in other areas of natural beauty.
Airports are highly controlled airspace. Because of the amount of activity coming at airports, a drone can cause significant delays and damages if a plane was to suck a drone into one of its engines.
Police officers enforcing rules around airports are often much less forgiving than police officers that you see in other parts. In Australia, I need to stay 5 km away from any airport, and there are many different flight restrictions imposed at the runway approaches.
Recreational operators can fly near an airport if the FAA grants them authorisation in the United States of America. Controlled airspace is often geo-fenced by manufacturers in their apps so that you cannot fly close to an airport without circumventing their restrictions.
Even though no direct laws stipulate whether or not you can fly near a school, you should consider a school a sensitive zone because of people’s high sensitivity to drones around children.
Staying away from government facilities is a good idea when you are flying your drone. There are plenty of sensitive areas, which means that your drone will not be allowed within a certain distance of nuclear power plants, prisons, high-profile events, and other secure areas deemed by the government.
If you have a DJI drone, there are several zones in the DJI fly safe system, including:
- restricted zones – In these Zones, which appear red on the DJI GO app, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is prevented. If you believe you have the authorisation to operate in a Restricted Zone, please contact [email protected] or Online Unlocking.
- Altitude zones – Altitude zones will appear in grey on the map. Users receive warnings in DJI GO or DJI GO 4, and flight altitude is limited.
- Authorisation zones – In these Zones, which appear blue in the DJI GO map, users will be prompted with a warning and flight is limited by default. Authorisation Zones may be unlocked by authorised users using a DJI verified account.
- Warning zones – In these Zones, which may not necessarily appear on the DJI GO map, users will be prompted with a warning message. Example Warning Zone: Class E airspace
- enhanced warning zones – In these Zones, you will be prompted by GEO at the time of flight to unlock the zone using the same steps as in an Authorization Zone, but you do not require a verified account or an internet connection at the time of your flight.
- Regulatory restricted zones – Due to local regulations and policies, flights are prohibited within the scope of some special areas, such as prisons.
- Recommended flight zone – This area is shown in green on the map. It is recommended that you choose these areas for flight arrangements.
Drone used for forensics on a crime
Your drone may also be confiscated if you are suspected of using the drone to commit a crime.
There are many ways in which a drone can be used forensically, and a 2019 study highlights all of the ways drone data can be analysed. In the paper, they investigate a drone controller and the drone itself to determine the possibility of acquiring flight data, extracting the media taken by the drone, establishing ownership, and documenting any other potential evidence.
If the police suspect that your drone will be useful in investigating a crime, they can confiscate your drone legally under civil forfeiture laws and regulations. These laws and regulations require the seizure of your property and can include anything potentially used in the crime.
Civil forfeiture is a process in which law enforcement officers can take assets from a person suspected of involvement with a crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing. It can be difficult to get the property back as the owners must prove it was not involved in criminal activity.
Proponents see civil forfeiture as a powerful tool to combat crime whilst critics argue that innocent owners can be entangled up in the process and have some of their fourth amendment and fifth Amendment rights violated. This violation is because they are being presumed guilty instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Your drone may fall under this classification if law enforcement officers suspect that you have committed a crime.
Your drone may also be confiscated if it is suspected that you have recorded someone without their permission.
In some countries, it is illegal to record someone without their consent if they are in a private place or conducting a private act. A private act can include showering, using the restroom, getting dressed and other areas where a person could expect alone. The possession of these sorts of drone recordings would be illegal, which would mean that the law would allow the police officers to confiscate your drone.
Drone taken by customs
One of the last ways a drone can be confiscated is by customs at an international border.
An international border can be a place of high security and confusion about laws and regulations.
Some jurisdictions have significantly stricter rules than other places and may even decide to store your drone for you while you are holidaying, which means that you will not be able to take your drone into their country and only pick it up when you leave.
No matter where you go, you should make sure that you understand the drone rules, and you can reach out to several air authorities for clarification before travelling. It may be a bit of a pain in the bum, but it is much better than having your drone taken away from you.
Here are some of the best ways to keep your drone safe and in your possession away from law enforcement officers.
Keep your drone
Keeping your drone in your possession often relies on being courteous to whoever is asking you to stop flying stop that can be police officers, security agents, or members of the public.
Stay clear of sensitive areas
Staying clear of sensitive areas is one of the best ways to keep your drone in your possession. Following all the local laws and regulations and staying clear of any do not fly zones will be the ultimate tool for staying safe.
It’s very easy to find out exactly where you can and cannot fly by using and downloading an app that uses data from official sources. I use open sky, but here are the best options for going forward.
Apps can help you
If you’re not sure where you can and cannot fly your drone, I recommend that you download an app that will show you exactly where you can and cannot fly. In the United States of America, they have the before you fly app known as B4UFLY APP.
if you are a recreational user of drones, you can now use the FAA drone app, developed with the company Aloft (previously known as Kitty Hawk).
This app provides situational awareness to recreational (hobby) flyers and other drone enthusiasts and pilots. It is available both on the App Store for Apple and the Google play store for android phones.
Interestingly, it also includes a desktop version which allows you to do some pre-flight planning and research.
The key features of the app, as stated by the FAA, include:
- A clear “status” indicator that informs the operator whether it is safe to fly or not. (For example, it shows flying in the Special Flight Rules Area around Washington, D.C. is prohibited.)
- Informative, interactive maps with filtering options.
- Information about controlled airspace, special use airspace, critical infrastructure, airports, national parks, military training routes and temporary flight restrictions.
- The ability to check whether it is safe to fly in different locations by searching for a location or moving the location pin.
- Links to other FAA drone resources and regulatory information
If you are not in the United States of America, other options are just as powerful. My favourite app to use is open sky.
Open sky works in the United States, Australia, and other places in the world. It is a very simple and clean way of viewing drone rules and regulations that you can fly with confidence wherever you are.
It is a free app that supports flight planning for many types of drone users, and by typing in a specific address, you will be able to understand the laws and regulations in that place.
Open sky is an approved provider of real-time access to controlled airspace information from the FAA and CASA in Australia.
Drone operators can request authorisation to fly controlled airspace, including the airspace near major cities. It automatically checks airspace rules and regulations and advises you when the airspace is clear for flight.
Get your license
Getting your drone flying license is one of the easiest ways to show seriousness about drone flight. Getting your license and carrying it with you provides the law enforcement officer with confidence that you have at least done everything you can do, and maybe what they are approaching you about is simply a misunderstanding.
Pay attention to warnings from police
If you are getting warnings from the police, I highly recommend landing as soon as possible. Even if you think you are right, it is often not in your interest to argue or escalate things with law enforcement.
If you’ve done nothing wrong, stay calm and land the drone to have an undistracted conversation with the officer. Often this is enough for them to ask you to move on, and you have just saved yourself any further hassle.
Don’t get into arguments
I also highly recommend that you not get into arguments with anyone while flying your drone. This includes members of the public, security officers, all misguided police officers.
Certainly, I wouldn’t say I like the stress that comes with arguments, and it can easily ruin a good flight for no reason. Landing, moving on, and apologising is some of the easiest ways to avoid any arguments and will make for a much more peaceful piloting experience.
This article has gone over everything you need to know about whether or not police can confiscate your drone. There are plenty of opportunities for police officers to approach you while flying your drone. Staying calm and asking minimal questions whilst abiding by any directions and warnings will be the easiest way to ensure that you keep your drone in your possession.
Another area where people often lose their drones is at international borders. Make sure that you understand all of the local laws and regulations before travelling to different countries so that you don’t have the hassle of having your drone confiscated while trying to navigate security requirements into another country.