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Drone Laws Don’t Protect Your Privacy in your Own Backyard

drone-laws


The perfect Christmas gift, a new drone, soars over your property taking crystal clear still pictures and plenty of video. Bored with flying over your own property, you pilot that drone across the fence to the neighbor’s house to check out what is happening at their barbecue.

Is it an invasion of privacy to pilot the tiny aircraft over property lines? The legislation simply has not caught up with the technology, making the privacy issue pretty complex.

Privacy laws in the United States, Australia, and Europe just do not cover the air above your property or home to the extent that they make it clear where and when a person can fly a drone across property lines.

Although there are several options for legal recourse when you believe that someone is invading your privacy with a drone, the biggest challenge is finding out who is piloting that drone in the first place.

Policing private drones is a huge job since owners of these machines are not required to register their tiny aircraft with any government agency unless the drone is flown for commercial use and depending upon the location.

Government entities like the CASA and the FCC struggle to find the balance between the emerging technology and the existing laws that govern where and when an aircraft can pass over private homes.

In the past, property rights included the air above and below your home and property with an imaginary line stretching from “heaven to hell.” The advent of the airplane and of air transportation required the laws to be adjusted to a limit of 500 feet above the treeline with the expectation of reasonable privacy for anyone owning land near or on aircraft routes.

The popularity of drones causes these government agencies to take another look at the laws regulating privacy, limiting flight distances, and regarding trespassing.

Trespassing

You have the right to believe that your yard, especially a fenced yard, is considered to be private property. When a neighbor flies a drone over that fence and into your yard, the legal issue is generally thought to be one of trespass.
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Trespass itself is generally used as a term to describe a person invading another person’s private property.

Often, damages like broken fences, trampled flowers or a downed fence ensure that a person who is accusing another person of trespass has been harmed enough to take this problem to the courts.

Because it is difficult to determine the damages caused by the drone as it invades the space above your home, trespass laws offer little recourse for landowners who are protecting their privacy.

Invasion of Privacy

Drones that might be used by government agencies to monitor the use of private property are violating a landowner’s right to privacy according to the United States Constitution.

Other invasions of privacy might include the police department using drones to monitor public places for criminal activities.

Is this an invasion of privacy? This taps the legal aspects of what type of privacy is expected in a public place.
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Do you imagine that your conversations could be overheard and used against you in a court of law? Could the drone be instrumental in the investigation of a crime?

The determination of what constitutes reasonable expectations of privacy rests on the courts and the people, making determining the rights of drone owners a slow process.

Drone owners explain that a majority of the time, the drone’s camera is used to help in piloting the UAV and restricting its use essentially restricts the rights of the owners. The FCC has released several rules regarding the use of drones during evening or night hours, but has not addressed the issue of privacy in regards to the use of video, audio, or still photos.

Handling the Drone Issue – Both Sides

When you are bothered in your home or in your yard by a person flying a drone at a low height or possibly creating video of your property, you have several options that can help to defend your privacy. As the owner of a drone, it is a good idea to think before you send that UAV into someone’s private property.

Talk to the drone pilot. Once the joy of piloting a brand new drone wears off, your neighbor or the owner of the drone will probably spend less time zooming across the neighborhood.

Explain that you are disturbed by the drone flying over your property and try to handle the situation without adding to the anger or resentment. If you are the pilot of the drone, respect the space of others. No one wants a drone hovering over their deck while they eat dinner.
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Take video of the drone while it is flying over your property.

Video with audio that includes the sound of the drone is an excellent resource when you have to move further against the drone operator.

As the operator of the drone, use GPS tracking to ensure that you are not breaking local laws when you fly over restricted areas. Keep records of your flights so that you have recourse if accused of an invasion of privacy.

Use the police department in the event that the drone operator causes you distress or harm by flying over your property. Feeling intimidated or “spied on” on your own property is definitely not going to make you happy.

If the drone operator continues to allow the drone to hover over your property, you do have the legal right to defend yourself from persecution. Call the police department and give them the records that you have regarding the drone’s flights.

They can contact the owner of the drone to ensure that there is no criminality. Read more about No-drone zones.

Enjoying your new drone comes with quite a bit of responsibility. Until the laws catch up with the technology, it is definitely a good idea to use that “golden rule” when you fly your drone.

Learn the rules and remember that everyone is entitled to the same privacy that you enjoy in your own home.

2 comments

  1. Hallo Mike, Great to see the site. I am in North London and am learning quite fast with the aid of the wonderful Ikarus RV7 Aerofly simulations with the Phantom but actually fly with a Mavic. Crashes in a sim are nil cost! and essential for the first 20 hours of real fun without worries.
    It would be good to hear of other pilots in North London.

    Happy flying if you can find somewhere ha ha.

  2. As per using recorded conversations that law enforcement drones “overhear” and using these records in a court of law, there should be checks and balances that guard agains such occurrences. I recently read about a case in Florida where the court dismissed a case in which law enforcement flew a drone above a dealer’s house to gather evidence for a warrant. The reasoning behing the court’s decision was that law enforcement survailance gathering was an invasion of privacy.

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