No drones allowed, but some photos OK

People clearly are concerned about government surveillance, as per reader comments on our news story about Yamhill County’s new contract for aerial photography. The related debate spawned myriad perspectives on privacy, including one today in a Page 2 editorial.

Last week, an editor misinterpreted our story about Yamhill County using aerial photography to assist officials with mandatory property value assessments. He dropped a stock photo into the story, thinking the county contract involved unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Responses followed quickly, and we understand why.

Aerial photography from high-flying aircraft can be used for all kinds of officials purposes. However, Oregonians have banned the use of UAS — known commonly as drones — for law enforcement and other public bodies to acquire images or information for judicial or administrative enforcement actions, with specific exemptions.

Except as detailed in law, information and images acquired via UAS are not admissible or disclosable for court or administrative enforcement, and cannot be used to establish suspicion or probable cause.

Exceptions exist for law enforcement use of drones for search and rescue, states of emergency, crime scene reconstruction, with a court warrant, or with probable cause to believe in criminal activity when it is unreasonable to get a warrant. Other public bodies have similar restrictions on drone-based photography.

Last year, Oregon legislators approved a law prohibiting operations of drones above any private property “to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly harass or annoy the owner or occupant.” Oddly, that law doesn’t apply to law enforcement, suggesting — unintentionally, no doubt — that police can harass us with drone fly-overs.

Why, you might ask, don’t we ban similar uses of imagery acquired from high altitude aerial photography? The answer appears to be that drone photography can be far less expensive, far more ubiquitous, and thus far more intrusive on our day-to-day privacy.

County appraisers, of course, can visit any property to determine what buildings are there. The county’s contract simply provides related information from occasional fly-overs.

Our readers responded with passion. “This should be stopped dead in its tracks,” one person wrote. Another said, “This is exactly the type of activity that erodes our rights to privacy in the name of efficiency and cost savings … this seems invasive enough an activity to justify the time taken for hearing and discussions.”

Turns out, our readers were less interested in drones versus manned aircraft, and more interested in privacy from government surveillance in any form.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable