It’s a valid question and if you are reading this post, you are not over-paranoid or crazy about drones invading your privacy. You are concerned about your safety and privacy and want to educate yourself. So, how to tell if a drone is watching you at night?
Let’s get started. Shall we?
Note: when we say ‘drone’, we are talking about commercially available drones with cameras like this one, not the military drones here.
The threat to privacy is increasing with the decreasing prices of drones. They can carry a high-quality camera that can easily violate your privacy, especially at night without you even knowing about it. A drone with a good quality digital camera can zoom in on your lawn or window from far away and take snapshots. It doesn’t even have to get near your private property.
This makes drones extremely dangerous for people who value their privacy or want to protect their commercial interest from say corporate espionage.
- Is drone spying legal?
- Can drones see inside your house?
- What does a drone look like at night?
- How to spot a drone at night?
- Conclusion – how to tell if a drone is watching you at night?
Is drone spying legal?
No. Recording videos or taking photos of someone without their explicit consent is against the law in almost all countries and states. The right to privacy is considered a fundamental right and its violation can land someone in jail if caught.
In the state of California, the Civil Code Section 1708.8 legislate the use of drones for surveillance against other people or critical infrastructure without permission. Similar laws are present in almost all other states as well.
This gives you legal cover to take action against someone using their drones to invade your privacy. But the question is that how do you know if someone is using a drone to spy on you in the first place? We will discuss a few ways to safeguard you against spy drones at night.
An important thing to remember here is that you CANNOT shoot a drone down just because it is flying over your property. The airspace above your house or property is protected by federal laws and shooting down a drone can get you in legal trouble. Though there are several methods to take down rogue drones they are mostly for military purposes and are considered illegal for the general public.
Can drones see inside your house?
No. Most commercially available drones are fitted with normal cameras that are only as good as your phone camera. However, they can zoom in on your windows and compromise your privacy nonetheless. Several such incidents have been reported in the media.
In 2019, a woman in Canby, Oregon narrated an incident to the Canbyfirst Podcast about a drone outside her window one night when she was sitting at her computer working. She noticed unusual lighting (which probably was the recording light on camera) but by the time she informed her husband, the drone has disappeared.
Similarly, in 2014, a woman was recorded topless sunbathing in her own backyard by a real estate drone which caused a social uproar about drones and privacy invasion.
Although the chances of most commercial drones seeing inside your house are slim, they can still invade your privacy to a great extent.
What does a drone look like at night?
If a drone is hovering high over your house or property at night, it will look like a blinking star but with rapid movements in different directions. If it is flying low, you can easily spot it by its throbbing white anti-collision light or by the colorful LED lights on the landing gears of most drones.
There are two types of lights on most drones; colored LEDs on the landing gears or belly and throbbing white light which is also known as anti-collision lights.
FAA mandates the anti-collision lights to be visible from at least 3 miles away so if a drone is flying over your house at night, you can easily see either of these hovering lights in the sky.
Normally, pilots cannot operate their drones at night unless they receive a special night time flying waiver. Even with the waiver, they have to install the anti-collision lights on their drone which makes them pretty easy to see from below.
How to spot a drone at night?
Coming back to our main question about spotting a drone at night, there are several methods that you can use to guard yourself against invasive drones.
1. Drone Detector App
It’s true that there is an app for everything.
An aviation safety company DeTech Inc. has come up with an Android App that can turn your cellphone into a drone detector.
The way it works is pretty simple, to be honest. Almost all drones communicate with their pilot using unencrypted wifi signals. These signals can be easily caught midair by any wifi device (including your smartphone) and the unique signature can be compared with a database to identify if it is originating from a drone.
This way, when a drone is within half a mile of your smartphone, the app can send you a notification about the possible intrusion.
However, there are some technical limitations to the App. For example, it cannot detect drones that are using encrypted communication like most modern DJI drones. It is also pretty ineffective against drones that do not use wifi signals at all.
It’s a free app so give it a try and see how helpful it is.
2. Night Vision Cameras With Motion Detection
This is also a simple DIY kind of set up that you can quickly put into place without needing any specialized equipment.
All drones have lights. Generally, they are of two kinds – navigational lights and anti-collision lights. Some airspace regulators like the FAA makes it compulsory for pilots to have anti-collision lights on top of drones if they are to be flown at night.
These lights can give away the presence of a drone around your property if you install night vision cameras and couple them with motion detection software. Most home security cameras come pre-equipped with motion detection features so it’s very easy to set up.
My favorite is the Google Nest camera that will work perfectly for this purpose [Google Nest Outdoor Camera – Check on Amazon]
Buy a few home security cameras and set them up around your house at tactical locations like at the top of each window or a see-through glass wall. If they detect a moving/hovering drone at night, the camera motion detection system can send you an alert on your smartphone informing you about an intruding drone.
Nice and easy. Right?
3. Microwave Motion Sensors
Another cheap solution to our nosy drone problem – you can install microwave motion sensors around your house atop each window or glass panel and it can act as your nightwatchman.
These sensors operate on the same principle as the highway speed gun used by the cops. The sensor emits microwaves which are reflected by objects in its field of view (FOV). When a drone enters the FOV, it reflects the waves as well but due to its relative motion, it slightly shifts the reflected wave wavelength due to a phenomenon called the Doppler effect.
You can get these sensors for less than $30 apiece from Amazon, install them around sensitive areas in your house and you are good to go. I found this one on Amazon to be very suitable.
4. Use RF Sweeper
As discussed, all drones use radio frequencies to communicate back with their control stations (mostly a hand held remote control).
A simple RF sweeper commonly used to detect hidden wifi cameras or other electronic bugs can also be used to detect rogue drones around your house. Most of them are small handheld devices powered by a rechargeable or replaceable battery.
There are quite a number of such RF sweepers available online but I found this one to be very reliable for detecting drone communications.
4. Cool Radio Trick
Ok, this one is not as practical for everybody as the previous three detection methods but it is a clever way of knowing for sure a drone is looking through your window.
A group of researchers from Ben Gurion University, Israel have come up with a neat solution to implement counter-surveillance against spying drones. In their research paper named Game of Drones – Detecting Streamed POI from Encrypted FPV Channel, the implemented a proof of concept that manipulates the video feed that is sent from the drone camera back to its FPV receiver on the remote control. Although the feed is encrypted, its single patterns can still be captured and displayed.
Let me explain its working in simpler terms without going into too many technical details.
Imagine a drone is hovering in front of your house and looking at your glass window through its camera lens. How can you be sure that its recording and sending back the footage to its operator? Well, the camera transmits the footage using ratio waves and if the camera is looking at an unchanging view, the ratio signals don’t change much and remain ‘flat’. You can intercept and display the signal on your screen.
Now, here is the interesting part. You can alter the monitored area (your window) by introducing a controlled change like installing a red bulb that you can blink with a specific frequency and see if it also changes the signal pattern. If the drone camera is recording your window, you will see a spike in the transmitted signal each time the red bulb goes off.
Here is a video by Ben nassi from the research team to explain the process more accurately.
5. Radar Detection System
I know this isn’t something everybody can afford or allowed to install but I am going to discuss it here anyway.
Many security companies have come up with sophisticated drone detection systems based on Radar technology. These radar transmitters and receivers are installed around your sensitive property and they can detect incoming drones from afar.
One of such companies is the Netherlands based Robin Radar Systems. They have come up with a military-grade drone detection system that can cover a 360-degree area around your property. It can not only detect incoming drones but also classify its make and model.
Conclusion – how to tell if a drone is watching you at night?
We discussed a number of drone detection systems that can help you spot a drone at night around your sensitive property. But the question is, what to do next when we detect the drone. Obviously, due to federal regulations covering the airspace, we cannot go on shooting drones out of the sky; that would be illegal.
Until the laws catch up with the technological progress in aviation safety, we can only take precautionary measures and adjust our lifestyle and living to protect our privacy from spying drones.
If you have suggestions on how to spot drones at night, send me a suggestion and I will include that in this article with due credit.