Seattle woman spots drone outside her 26th-floor apartment window, feels ‘violated’

On her Facebook page, Lisa Pleiss said she felt violated when she saw a drone hovering outside her apartment window on the 26th floor of her Seattle highrise on Sunday.

“It was freaky,” she told KIRO. “You don’t expect to be walking around indecent in your apartment and then have this thing potentially recording you.”

Pleiss, concerned it was looking into her apartment, called her concierge, who reported it to police. The concierge went outside and saw two men piloting the drone. They also had a video camera, according to a statement from the Seattle Police Department.

The drone reportedly belongs to Joe Vaughn, founder of Skyris Imaging, a Portland company that builds commercial drones. And when word of the so-called peeping-Tom incident got back to him, he called the authorities to explain.

“I immediately contacted the Seattle Police Department, let them know my name, the name of my company, what we were there for and who my client was,” he told KGW. “Then, they called my client to confirm that we were there for a reasonable purpose.”

The drone that surprised Pleiss was one of six the company uses to take photos of skylines for architects, real estate agents and developers, but they are only used when Vaughn has permission from property owners, he said. On Sunday, he said he was using one to take pictures for a developer planning a 20-story office building.

Drew Fowler, a Seattle Police spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times the drone incident does raise legal questions. It may not have been illegal if the drone was not equipped with a camera or if its camera was pointed down at a public street, he said.

“It’s fairly common that technology has outpaced legislation and lawbreaking. At this point, there are [none] that we have found yet, laws, at least for Seattle, as to how an unmanned [aerial vehicle] is to be operated in this city,” he told the Times. “If any laws were broken, they would lie in the realm of violation of privacy laws, but there is no ‘Hey, you can’t fly a UAV this way or that way.’”

Fowler said a law may have been broken if police could prove the drone had a camera aimed inside the building, but the pilots had not been located as of Wednesday, the Times reported.

On Tuesday, Vaughn called Pleiss to explain.

“We had a very nice conversation and we’ll be sending her a print of the photograph we ended up taking on Sunday morning,” he told KGW.

Pleiss posted a message about the experience on her Facebook page Tuesday night.

“He felt bad — assured me no topless pics exist and is sending me a cool pic they took of Seattle skyline,” she wrote. “Crazytown.”

Pleiss also snapped a photo of the drone.

“It, like, swooped out of frame immediately, really quickly,” she told KIRO, “which made me think they were looking at me because they were reacting to my actions.”

That picture is now her Facebook cover photo.

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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