8.29.2016

Pondering over Coffee: American law does not recognize the concept of aerial trespass


Just 2 nights ago I was visiting with one of my brothers and the subject of drones came up; in particular, the subject of shooting down drones came up.  He and I are of the same train of thought; if a drone is flying over and hovering over me and my family and my property... I should be able to shoot it down.  To me it's no different than the owner of that drone standing there spying on me and my family.  I don't stand for 'peeping Toms' and if you are watching or recording what your drone is viewing then you are a peeping Tom. He told me of a news story he read where a Dad shot down a drone that was being used to spy on his daughter and her friends having a pool party in their own backyard.  More power to that Dad for blowing the drone out of the air - peeping Tom's getting their rocks off by viewing young girls through their drones deserve it.

Tonight I was reading a completely unrelated story when a click led to a click and ended up reading this story:  a 65 year old woman in Virginia shot down a drone - source: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/08/65-year-old-woman-takes-out-drone-over-her-virginia-property-with-one-shot/

At the end of the story is the 'further reading' portion which I  found interesting.  It's about how we are so behind the times that our laws don't have a black and white answer about who is legally in the right.  I think right now it's whomever has the better lawyer?

For now, American law does not recognize the concept of aerial trespass. But as the consumer drone age has taken flight, legal scholars have increasingly wondered about this situation. The best case-law on the issue dates back to 1946, long before inexpensive consumer drones were technically feasible. That year, the Supreme Court ruled in a case known as United States v. Causby that a farmer in North Carolina could assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air.

In that case, American military aircraft were flying above his farm, disturbing his sleep and upsetting his chickens. As such, the court found he was owed compensation. However, the same decision also specifically mentioned a "minimum safe altitude of flight" at 500 feet—leaving the zone between 83 and 500 feet as a legal gray area. "The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land," the court concluded.

Last year, a pilot in Stanislaus County, California, filed a small claims lawsuit against a neighbor who shot down his drone and won. However, it is not clear whether the pilot managed to collect. Similarly, a case ensued in Kentucky after a man shot down a drone that he believed was flying above his property. The shooter in that case, William Merideth, was cleared of local charges, including wanton endangerment.

But earlier this year, the Kentucky drone's pilot, David Boggs, filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in Louisville to make a legal determination as to whether his drone’s flight constituted trespassing. Boggs asked the court to rule that there was no trespass and that he is therefore entitled to damages of $1,500 for his destroyed drone. The case is still pending.