Self-Proclaimed 'Vigilante' Instrumental In First Prostitution Bust By Drone

from the extra-eyes-in-the-skies dept

Private drones are the new CCTV. As Cyrus Farivar words it for Ars Technica, the age of sousveillance is upon us.

An Oklahoma man has received the distinction of being the first “john” in the state to be criminally prosecuted and arrested after being caught in the act by a drone. Local police records show Douglas Blansett, 75, was arrested and released on Thursday. That’s according to local anti-prostitution Oklahoma City-based activist and private investigator Brian Bates, who has run for years, a collection of videos of suspected sex workers and their johns.

It was Bates’ drone that earlier this year took video of what he believed was a man picking up a woman named Amanda Zolicoffer that he described as a “known prostitute.” Both Blansett and Zolicoffer now face a misdemeanor charge of “engaging in an act of lewdness.”

This shows what’s possible with surveillance equipment d/b/a hobbyist technology. Not that Bates is your average hobbyist. Bates, as noted above, is both a prostitution-focused “activist” and a salesman — albeit one that sells recordings of sex acts to news agencies or whoever else is willing to license the footage. So, much like law enforcement, Bates profits from criminalized acts of consenting behavior between adults.

Bates and his drone followed a vehicle after noticing the driver had picked up a prostitute. The drone was deployed because a third vehicle also trailed the “couple,” presumably belonging to the prostitute’s pimp. Bates understandably felt his camera wouldn’t be welcomed by the pimp, so he deployed his drone and the rest is recorded history.

It should be noted, Bates — like other purveyors of “reality” programming — apparently felt reality just wasn’t interesting enough. A decade ago, he was arrested for felony pandering (a charge normally reserved for pimps) and a misdemeanor count of “aiding in prostitution.”

According to the below Oklahoma City Police Department report, Brian Bates, 34, orchestrated the public encounters so he could peddle the resulting videotape to media outlets (some of Bates’s surveillance tapes are offered for sale on his web site).

[I]f a john was a “regular,” Bates asked prostitutes to give “specific signals” so he would know not to bother rolling tape. Investigators also noted that, like any good auteur, Bates “gave direction to the prostitutes on how to complete the act with a high probability of success,” as well as tips on how to spot an undercover cop.

It also should be noted the charges may have not been entirely legitimate. Maggie McNeill — an actual activist and sex worker advocate — noted that the arrest may have stemmed from a “long-running” feud between Bates and a local district attorney.

That being said, there’s nothing stopping this sort of thing from happening in the future and it’s likely it won’t just be private drone owners involved. If the act occurs in public, there’s no way to claim any sort of invasion of privacy, especially when tied to a criminal act. Plenty of police departments are utilizing their own drones for surveillance. From a cost effectiveness perspective, flying drones to net misdemeanor charges doesn’t make much sense. But all it takes is a little political pressure to trigger a reassessment of priorities.

Bates claims he’s only targeting the “worst” kind of prostitution and makes a small nod towards privacy. But it’s a meaningless gesture.

Bates said he focuses his efforts on “street, forced and organized prostitution,” not people who willfully engage in the profession behind closed doors.

“I’m only dealing with people who are literally out there out of desperation,” he said. “Either because a pimp’s making them do it or because an addiction is making them do it. Nobody’s making the john do it.”

More honestly, he’s taking the secure legal route — acts captured in public areas. If Bates could put a camera behind closed doors with minimal legal liability, I’m sure he would. So, his white knighting is borne of legal conveniences, not some genuine concern for supposedly-victimized prostitutes. (See also: the details of his arrest for pandering, which alleged Bates worked with prostitutes to ensure only the best — and most sellable — footage was captured.)

Whether or not you agree with Bates’ “vigilantism,” the implications are clear: public areas are open to “surveillance” by everyone, not just law enforcement. Private drones can easily act as souped-up Neighborhood Watch programs. As the barrier to entry continues to drop, we can expect more recordings from our friends and neighbors to fill in the “gaps” in law enforcement “coverage.”

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Comments on “Self-Proclaimed 'Vigilante' Instrumental In First Prostitution Bust By Drone”

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DanA says:

Re: Re:

My suspicion is that legally what he is doing wouldn’t fall under most revenge porn laws in the US* because the images he takes are in public locations and thus would not be considered ‘intimate private photos’. Much like when Lenny Kravitz had his ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and pics of his dangly bits were everywhere the fact that the photo was taken in public and there was no agreement between the parties to keep them private would generally avoid any possibility of conviction (prosecution of course only requires that you make a prosecutor upset). However none of that matters because Oklahoma hasn’t made any effort to join the 21st century yet and has neither passed nor made an effort to pass a revenge porn so even if he were violating another states law it would be a hard push to find a john from another state that might give another states court potential jurisdiction unless they tried the old ‘it is on the internet, we have the internet in our state, therefore we have jurisdiction’ play.

*This would definitely be illegal under Arizona’s revenge porn law but since that is unconstitutional in the first place it is something of a moot point.

DanA says:

Re: Discrimination

I generally support the idea of legalizing prostitution but I don’t think that sex in public places something that we must respect or even tolerate. Engaging sex publicly has a reasonable likelihood of forcing someone who has not consented to be involved with your sexual activity which is unacceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Discrimination

I live in a country with legalised prostitution. There are far less streetwalkers since legalisation, and more, and smaller brothels. Some local councils have had to enact bylaws to ban suburban brothels that got too successful. There will always be an appetite for the ‘drive and fuck’ market though, so there will always be some streetwalkers.

” Engaging sex publicly has a reasonable likelihood of forcing someone who has not consented to be involved with your sexual activity which is unacceptable”.

What do you mean? If you get too close to the fornicators they’ll drag you down and screw you too?

DanA says:

Re: Re: Re: Discrimination

If I walk past the alley or car you are having public sex in, I have been involuntarily involved in your sexual activity. If you want voyeurs and they’ve consented to that then bully for you but I don’t want that and I definitely don’t want my son being exposed to that. The state does not have a valid interest in what people do sexually in the privacy of their own homes but the key word there is privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Discrimination

If I walk past the alley or car you are having public sex in, I have been involuntarily involved in your sexual activity.

And if you walk past a discussion I’m having, you might be “involuntarily involved in” a political debate. Why should sexual things be treated differently? The idea that it’s harmful for children to see such things is a mass cultural delusion, unsupported by evidence.

DB (profile) says:

You can have an expectation of privacy, even on public property.

As a trivial example, camping in a national park. Or using the restroom at a playground.

Something that is quite close to this situation is changing into a swimsuit while in your car near a beach. You can’t expect privacy if you change out in the open, but you can if you aren’t visible from any normal viewing angle. Just like high-mounted windows on a park restroom aren’t an invitation for perv pictures, not every window is an invitation to take drone video.

Christophe Von Moltke (profile) says:

The man who enriches himself off of other people problems

No One hire this piece of garbage Bill Bates to tail their spouse who expose prostitution.He does it to enrich himself and get a deal with you tube.This man is a real piece of garbage who makes money off of other people problems and misery,in what is a victimless crime.Bates is the lowest form of human life and is the 3rd annual winner of the loser of the year..2016.CONGRATS Misses Bates

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