Mary Dunham has gotten used to seeing drones flying around Gorham, where she lives, but this week was the first time one followed her.

She didn’t like it.

On two consecutive days, Dunham, 43, called police to report the suspicious drone surveillance. But each time, officers told her there wasn’t much they could do. Her experience underscores the fact that, as drones have become more and more popular among everyday Americans, the devices remain little regulated.

Drones must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and cannot fly in airspace where manned flights are controlled by the agency, including around airports. Other than that, the agency does little to restrict drone usage.

Some states have passed laws that make it a crime to use drones for surveillance that violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. Maine is not one of them.

Dunham first noticed the drone buzzing overhead near her neighborhood Tuesday as she was driving home from work in Portland. When she stopped at a stop sign, the drone stopped. When she turned right, the drone followed.

At that point, Dunham said Friday, something didn’t feel right. So instead of driving home, she drove to a gas station, parked her car and called police. The drone hovered overhead.

“The officer arrived and said, ‘Yeah, I see it. I don’t know what to tell you though. We can’t do too much,’ ” she said.

So she went home. She said the drone followed and flew over her house for about 20 more minutes before leaving.

The next day, she waited a long time before leaving the house but when she did, she saw the drone had returned. She drove to her brother’s house in Standish and the drone followed her for the entire eight miles. She again called police and waited in a parking lot. The drone didn’t leave, even when an officer arrived.

Gorham police did not respond to multiple messages on Friday, but Deputy Chief Michael Nault told News Center Maine that this type of drone stalking is not something he’s seen.

“It’s out of the norm,” he said.

Dunham, a tattoo artist, said she’s well known around town but doesn’t believe she has any enemies.

“I can’t think why anyone would do this,” she said. “It’s unnerving.”

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have gained in popularity as technology has made them more accessible to the general public. They are often used for aerial photography and video.

According to the FAA, there are more than 1.5 million drones registered nationwide, two-thirds of which are for recreational use.

Maine passed a law in 2015 that requires police to obtain a search warrant before using drones in criminal investigations, solicit approval from local governments before purchasing a drone and develop drone policies that meet minimum standards set by the state, among other provisions. But that law doesn’t apply to private use.

Rachel Healy, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said she hasn’t heard many complaints about this type of activity, but there are valid concerns about the use of drones by everyday citizens because the devices can be equipped with all sorts of technology.

Dunham said she is discouraged to think that a citizen’s right to operate drones supersedes her own right to privacy.

“I don’t know how long they’ve been watching, or why they’re doing it,” she said. “It could be my neighbor and I wouldn’t know.”

Dunham can’t even take matters into her own hands by, say, shooting the drone out of the sky. That’s a federal crime.

She said she briefly considered buying her own drone, which she could deploy if her electronic stalker returns.

“I could just follow it. They have to go to ground sometime,” she said.

Since Wednesday, Dunham said, the drone has not reappeared, perhaps because she shared the story on the local TV news. But even if she never has the experience again, she said she’ll always wonder.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.