Flying a Drone Over Your Neighbour's Yard - What Are The Rules?

Despite plenty of wonderful innovations in the world of drone technology, the increasing power of their attached cameras and capabilities are posing questions to regulatory authorities around the world...  

Drone Slayer William Meridith | Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post

Drone Slayer William Meridith | Luke Sharrett for The Washington Post

As with most recent developments in technology, questions remain over how best to uphold the rights of citizens without holding back further innovation. As we've seen in recent weeks, the FAA's first step into regulation has been to enforce the registration of all drones over a certain weight. Commercial drones are still only being allowed to operate on an individual basis. It could be argued that this in itself is a restriction of rights of sorts, but the real privacy issues arise when high powered drones are hovering over your house, perhaps without your knowledge or consent...

In the summer a Kentucky resident caused a stir when he shot down a drone he claimed was hovering over his property. At the time he suggested that the drone had been spying on his daughter or looking for something to steal. Though shooter William Merideth was arrested for wanton endangerment and criminal mischief, the charges were dropped in October after a judge declared his actions legal. Unsurprisingly, the drone's owner David Boggs, wasn't too happy with the decision, and has since filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Louisville, arguing that Merideth had no right to shoot the drone out of the sky. Why? Because the government controls every inch of airspace in America, of course. And as strange as it is for a drone enthusiast to look to the government for help with this kind of thing, he may have a point...

Who has a right to the air is understandably a grey area in American history. Typically, people haven't been that bothered, as planes generally fly high above houses at tens of thousands of feet. But the drone revolution has brought about a need for clarity, and unfortunately there isn't much of a precedent to look back on. 

The Federal Aviation Administration say that every inch above the tip of your grass blades is within the government’s jurisdiction, while a Supreme Court case back in 1946, United States v. Causby, ruled in favour of a farmer bringing charges against the government's low-flying military planes. The ruling there was that a property owner owns “at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.” So where does that leave us?

Are annoyed, trigger-happy homeowners within their rights to take down drones hovering over their property? Or we do we simply have to accept drones as a legitimate addition to standard air traffic? What's clear is that authorities need to clarify issues surrounding airspace privacy, especially given the imminent arrival of delivery drones.  

While bodies such as the FAA deliberate, it's likely that people will continue to take the law into their own hands. 

Until the FAA, who may not even consider private property laws under their jurisdiction, put something concrete in place, local laws are being used to deal with drones around America. Concerned citizens can bring civil cases against drone operators if they believe them to be invading privacy, or even ask local police to bring charges against the drone pilots under trespassing or “peeping Tom” laws.

Despite slow federal progress on drone regulation, 32 states have put in place laws of their own. But, naturally, the specifics vary from state to state, and some have simply left it to local authorities to judge each case on an individual basis. 

In an interview with the Washington Post, James Mackler, the attorney representing drone-slayer victim David Boggs, said that “this industry is growing quickly - and it’s to some extent being stifled by the legal uncertainty surrounding these issues". 

We'd love to know your thoughts. Leave us a comment below.