Who is watching you from above? - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Who is watching you from above?

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

They used to be something only the military could afford but if you search online now for the word "drone" you'll see plenty of options pop up.

Some look like birds and bugs, others look like mini Stealth jets. There are people who would call a radio controlled helicopter or quad-copter a drone.

Drone is defined as an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight or any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely.

These days some will only cost you a few hundred dollars.

Before you charge up your drone and set off into the wild blue yonder there are many things to consider.

Isaac Burnett is a hobbyist. He flies radio controlled aircraft like this quad copter with a Go-Pro camera attached. He plays by Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations. To see those regulations, click here.

North Carolina is also in the process of drone regulation. For more information about that, click here.

He can see what the quad-copter sees as it is in flight on a real-time video monitor. Usually he's in the air taking nature pictures or video of other hobbyists flying their aircraft.

Some advanced drones, however, are flying computers that can see and hear.

"Think about what it would be like if your smart phone suddenly could fly anywhere it wanted to go, remotely controlled, up to a mile from the controller," said WBTV Cyber Expert Theresa Payton.

Payton says drones, originally created for dangerous military missions, are now becoming more affordable for the rest of the population.

"They're not that expensive anymore. You can get one for as little as 300 with that audio and video capability," Payton said.

Roofers use them to check out a roof without climbing a ladder. They're used to shoot TV commercials, by police to track missing people, by border patrol agents too.

Unfortunately bad guys can access the technology as well and Payton says they've been used by drug dealers, suspected terrorists and by people who just want to spy on others.

"The good ones can see through your skylight with amazing clarity. They can hear through the walls of your house with amazing clarity and audio fidelity. All of those things we take for granted with our privacy, those will be infringed upon," Payton said.

She adds the laws haven't quite caught up with the technology and law enforcement is still trying to understand how to govern drone flights and whether data acquired by them can be made public or used in criminal cases as evidence.

Advanced drones, if you think of them as flying computers, can also be hacked so it is vital there is a discussion about how data collected by drones is protected.

When lawmakers are trying to govern remote controlled chopper and drone use, Payton says it is important to craft laws that allow for their use while protecting personal privacy.

"Drone technology is improving and lawmakers have to start thinking like the bad guys to anticipate how drones could be abused," Payton said.

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