A New York jury acquitted a man charged with using a drone to spy into windows of a doctor’s office, one of the first tests for how existing privacy laws apply to drones.
David Beesmer, a 50-year-old mobile-home salesman in upstate New York, was found not guilty of attempted unlawful surveillance by a six-woman jury in Ulster Town Court. The jury deliberated for about an hour, during which it asked to again see footage of the four-story medical building that was shot with the drone. He faced a year in jail if convicted.
New York State Police arrested Mr. Beesmer last year after patients inside an Ulster medical building complained about a drone hovering outside. Mr. Beesmer said he was test-flying his new drone, a Phantom made by Chinese drone maker SZ #DJI Technology Co., and that its camera couldn’t see into the building’s tinted windows.
– Photo: David Beesmer holds his drone outside Ulster Town Court. It was returned to him after he was acquitted of attempted unlawful surveillance.
Beesmer is standing trial for a second time on a misdemeanor charge of attempted unlawful surveillance. A mistrial was declared the first time around because the jury saw evidence that was supposed to be excluded.
Following the verdict, Beesmer said he was relieved the case finally was over and that his innocence had been proven.
“My biggest fear was that the jury would vote on emotion rather than the letter of the law,” Beesmer said. He said he always knew he was not guilty and that the evidence in the case showed his drone could not see into the windows of the medical building.
Beesmer said he knew he was making a video of a medical building and for the sake of “politeness” should have gotten prior consent. He added, though, that he did not legally need permission to record images of what he described as a public building.
Privacy advocates are concerned that the proliferation of affordable drones carrying high-definition cameras will enable drone users to peek over fences and into windows. Lawmakers have proposed federal drone-related privacy rules, and several states have passed such laws.
Drone users and advocates argue that existing state and local privacy laws “suffice to protect U.S. citizens from potential drone surveillance.”
“This case shows there’s an existing legal framework to address misconduct with a drone, when it actually occurs,” said Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney who specializes in drone-related cases. “This person didn’t do anything wrong, but the fact the prosecutor could use an existing surveillance statute to address the alleged privacy invasion shows us we don’t need drone-specific legislation.”
Eric Schneider, Mr. Beesmer’s attorney, said “the case shows how government officials are overreacting to a new technology. The prosecution focused mainly on the potential harm of drones, rather than the specific evidence of the incident. The drones were on trial,” he said.
In his closing argument to the jury, defense attorney Eric Schneider said the case against Beesmer was a “disgrace” and that the state police investigator who arrested Beesmer did not know the specifics of the unlawful surveillance statute under which the arrest was made.
Schneider said those doubts included the fact that Beesmer was not trying to hide what he was doing and went into the medical building after using the drone to offer his footage to the staff. Schneider also said the footage supported the claim of innocence because it showed the windows of the building were tinted and could not be seen through with the device’s camera.