There are times when current laws can’t keep up with new technology. Dealing with the increasing availability of private drones is one such example.
A Kentucky man was arrested in July and charged with wanton endangerment and criminal mischief felonies after shooting down a private drone that he said was hovering over his property invading his family’s privacy.
The neighbor who owned the drone claims he did nothing wrong.
This is not the first case of a person shooting down a private drone in order to protect his privacy, and it is not likely to be the last.
The new technology pits hobbyists against those who would rather not have high-definition cameras recording video and audio above their private property.
Although some states have considered legislation to address the issues related to private drones, the current laws governing these encounters tend to be trespass laws that never contemplated the ability of private citizens to deploy surveillance equipment in this way.
Because there is no immediate physical danger, residents who take out a shotgun and blast an offending drone out of the sky are likely to face charges.
This puts people in an awkward position.
What are one’s choices when faced with a drone hovering above one’s property?
One can hide indoors with the blinds drawn, thus becoming a prisoner in one’s own home.
Alternatively, one could spend time in the yard, and risk having drone operators take photos or record video of them. Even if the subject calls law enforcement, officers may not be able to do much, either because there is no specific law for them to enforce, or because they can’t locate the owner/operator of the drone. And, once recordings have been made, there’s no telling where they might end up.
A person could inadvertently become the next YouTube sensation simply by hanging out in his own backyard.
Waiting for law enforcement won’t help, because even if there are things they can do, the damage will have been done before they arrive.
So, we can either take action, or resign ourselves to being victims.
We already give up any illusion of privacy any time we use a computer, purchase goods or services with a credit or debit card, or use our mobile phones. We should not have to give up our privacy every time we relax with a refreshing adult beverage on our own property.
Even in cases where the drone activity may not violate current law, it may very well be a violation of the good neighbor code.
If we give drone operators the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are not creepy perverts spying on our private activities, we may still wish to prevent them from monitoring our private property.
I don’t have a backyard pool, nor do I currently have a wife or girlfriend. But, if I did, and if a neighbor sent a drone over to record images of my hypothetical girlfriend sunbathing or swimming in my hypothetical pool, I might be inclined to take out my hypothetical Remington 12 gauge and blast his drone out of the sky.
Sometimes we need to help people to be better neighbors.
In addition to privacy concerns, there have been cases in which drones have threatened public safety.
Recently, fire officials in California had to call off operations when five private drones buzzing around a fire made it unsafe for firefighters to fly in to drop water or flame retardant on the blaze.
In effect, the drone operators were impeding the work of firefighters, and potentially contributing to the destruction of public and private property because firefighters were prevented from using all of their resources to fight the fire just so private individuals could use their drones to record the fire for their personal benefit.
This is another example of a case in which we might be justified in helping others to be better neighbors. If a drone operator interferes with the work of emergency responders, those responders should be allowed to immediately and without penalty shoot down the drones so they can go about the job they need to do.
This is clearly a case in which public safety trumps the “rights” of private individuals.
No doubt there are responsible citizens who use private drones for lawful and beneficial purposes.
I have seen beautiful images captured by drones that would not otherwise be possible.
But until there are realistic, enforceable laws in place to regulate the use of drones and protect the rights of citizens, the conflicts between drone operators and others are likely to continue.
We may not be able to keep drones out of the hands of morons, or at least any moron who can come up with the purchase price, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit back and allow ourselves to be victimized by unscrupulous characters and their flying toys.