Sex worker caught by 'drone vigilante' pleads guilty

Drone Image copyright DJI
Image caption Mr Bates used a camera-equipped drone to film the sex act last year

A woman in Oklahoma has pleaded guilty to a lewdness charge after being caught on camera by a local "drone vigilante".

Brian Bates used a drone to film Amanda Zolicoffer during a liaison with a man last August.

Mr Bates says this was the only occasion on which he has used a drone to film such an encounter.

A civil liberties campaigner pointed out that filming with drones could raise privacy concerns.

According to court documents seen by the BBC, Zolicoffer was sentenced to a year in state prison for the misdemeanour.

The case against her alleged client, who was released following arrest in December, is still pending.

Footage of an encounter between two individuals in a parked vehicle was given to Oklahoma City police by Mr Bates.

Video vigilante

"I'm sort of known in the Oklahoma City area," Mr Bates told the BBC.

"For the last 20 years I've used a video camera to document street-level and forced prostitution, and human trafficking."

Mr Bates added that on this occasion he felt safer filming the incident via drone and said that it was able to get "very good footage".

Mr Bates runs a website where he publishes videos of alleged sex workers and their clients.

"I am openly referred to as a video vigilante, I don't really shy away from that," he said.

However, Mr Bates also said that he was reluctant to use his drone in many cases because of safety concerns.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Brian Bates says he has been filming alleged acts of prostitution in Oklahoma for many years

In this instance, said Mr Bates, the two individuals were inside a vehicle and the incident occurred away from other members of the public.

"I'd certainly caution other people who may be tempted to use drones to maybe fight drug activity or prostitution or gangs in their neighbourhood," he said.

"If one thing goes wrong, you will probably be the person facing criminal charges or civil liability."

Expectations of privacy

"People operating drones have to think about whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are filming," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

"Filming in public spaces [for example] is very different from filming someone's private property."

Mr Killock pointed out some general issues facing drone owners with regards to filming and said there was little difference between this and traditional photography.

"The technologies may be different but the ethics are fundamentally the same."

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