Action News Jax Investigates: Woman says drone 'peeped' on her while she dressed

Peeping drones

ATLANTA, Ga. — You've heard of “peeping Toms,” but a woman said she was peeped on by a drone outside of her downtown high-rise.

“(I) just flipped back around quickly, and when I did, there it was,” Michele Dunn said.

Dunn said she was getting dressed in the bedroom of her Atlanta high-rise apartment in February when something outside of her window got her attention.

Content Continues Below

She said she screamed when she saw a drone hovering. Dunn said the drone was so close to her window that she could see the camera lens moving.

“I’m in my bedroom in a high-rise and I had a towel,” Dunn said.

When Dunn called Atlanta police to report the drone, she said they told her the incident was a Federal Aviation Administration issue and she was to report it to them.

“A lot of folks believe, for instance, only the FAA can regulate activity of drones,” said Georgia state Rep. Kevin Tanner.

Tanner said the Federal Aviation Authority may regulate airspace, but they do not regulate all drone activity.

Tanner chaired a study committee on drones, or small unmanned aerial vehicles, when lawmakers observed not only a rise in popularity, but a rise in complaints of drones peeping over fences and in homes.

“We actually have a lot of laws on our books today, currently, already in place that would govern the uses of drones,” Tanner said.

One of those laws, O.C.G.A. 16-11-62 states it’s illegal to “use any device” for eavesdropping or surveillance “in any private place, and out of public view.”

In Florida, using a drone to spy on someone falls under an illegal video voyeurism charge.

It's illegal if the victim has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

“People haven’t dealt with drones before from a law enforcement perspective. They have not had to take those complaints before, they haven’t had to prosecute someone for using a drone inappropriately before, so sometimes they just don’t understand that there are laws on the books that apply,” Tanner said.

Cliff Whitney, with Atlanta Hobby, has been teaching drone pilots and enthusiasts how to fly them for seven years. Insurance companies, realtors and even movie companies send their employees to Georgia to train with Whitney.

“Drones touch so many industries,” Whitney said.

Whitney doubts many will use drones to spy because it's "Simply not practical."

“I don't think ‘peeping Toms’ are going to put out the expense necessary to buy that type of equipment and learn how to be a ‘peeping Tom,’” Whitney said. “You'd be a whole lot better to go up to someone's window.”

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he believes the potential for misuse is there, and wants law enforcement to take it seriously.

“All of us, policemen, prosecutors, are all adjusting to a new society, a new environment that's filled with computers and drones,” Howard said. “We have got to increase the training for our local and state police.”

After our Atlanta sister station, WSB-TV,  contacted Atlanta police, they sent an officer to make a report in Dunn’s case.

In a statement by email, police said, "The case is now assigned to our special victim’s unit and investigators are attempting to positively identify the suspect and speak with him."

Atlanta police also quoted the code section Tanner referenced in their email to our sister station.

Dunn said the man who was flying the drone outside her window is long gone. She learned he was renting an Airbnb unit in her building. She said she hopes that with more training, maybe next time police will act fast enough to question them.

“Maybe this is a first. Let’s use it to learn,” Dunn said.