By Sam Rolley / Personal Liberty Digest
Currently, you could find yourself in legal trouble for shooting down a drone even if it’s hovering over private property. A proposed Oklahoma law aims to change that.
Consumer drone technology which allows hobbyists to take high definition video via remote controlled aerial vehicles has created a new privacy threat.
Imagine sitting quietly in your backyard behind a high privacy fence only to be disturbed by a stranger’s camera-equipped drone buzzing overhead. Not knowing whether the device is being flown for fun or for more sinister purposes, like peeping through your windows or scoping your property for a burglary, could make you feel inclined to shoot it down.
It’s happened before.
In 2015, a Kentucky resident William Merideth shot down a drone hovering over his property because he was worried the unmanned aircraft was photographing his daughters or scouting his property for things to steal.
“Sunday afternoon, the kids — my girls — were out on the back deck, and the neighbors were out in their yard,” Merideth told Louiville-based WDRB. “And they come in and said, ‘Dad, there’s a drone out here, flying over everybody’s yard.’”
According to Merideth, there would have been no problem if the drone had simply been passing over his property. But when it hovered overhead for more than a few seconds, he decided to take action and shoot it down with his shotgun.
“It was just right there,” he told Ars Technica. “It was hovering, I would never have shot it if it was flying. When he came down with a video camera right over my back deck, that’s not going to work. I know they’re neat little vehicles, but one of those uses shouldn’t be flying into people’s yards and videotaping.”
Charges brought against the shooter were eventually dropped. But Merideth was slapped with a lawsuit by the drone owner for shooting the unmanned vehicle down. The case is still pending.
A similar situation in California also led to a lawsuit which was won by the drone operator.
The lawsuits are one thing. But Ars Technica reports that the potential for criminal charges creates another threat for property owners who shoot down hobby drones violating their privacy.
In 2015, the website contacted the FAA to find out the government’s position on the matter.
“A private citizen shooting at any aircraft – including unmanned aircraft – poses a significant safety hazard,” an FAA spokesman replied. “An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air. Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in a civil penalty from the FAA and/or criminal charges filed by federal, state or local law enforcement.”
For one Oklahomas state senator, that residents are unable to defend their property from the prying eyes of drone hobbyists is unacceptable.
Sen. Ralph Shortey has introduced legislation in the state that would at least protect residents from civil liability for shooting down drones hovering over their property under 400 feet.
From his bill:
Any person owning or controlling real estate or other premises who voluntarily damages or destroys a drone located on the real estate or premises or within the airspace of the real estate or premises not otherwise regulated by the Federal Aviation shall, together with any successors in interest, if any, not be civilly liable for causing the damage or destruction to the property of such person.
“It doesn’t matter how you damage that thing,” Shortey told the AP. “As a private citizen, you have a reasonable expectation of privacy above your property where the public does not have access and that is under 400 feet.”
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