Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

Op-Ed: Flying a drone over your neighbour’s place - No, it’s not OK

By Paul Wallis     May 24, 2013 in Technology
Sydney - The question of whether you can fly a drone over your neighbour’s place is getting a lot of attention online. The legal theory, such as it is, falls somewhere between the First Amendment and privacy laws, and it’s not helping anyone.
This is generating some real law enforcement and real legal argument:
The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reports:
.....a resident of the Miller Park area around 19th and Thomas tells CHS she is concerned about a fellow citizen employing a drone near her home:
This afternoon, a stranger set an aerial drone into flight over my yard and beside my house near Miller Playfield. … My husband went to talk to the man on the sidewalk outside our home who was operating the drone with a remote control, to ask him to not fly his drone near our home. The man insisted that it is legal for him to fly an aerial drone over our yard and adjacent to our windows. He noted that the drone has a camera, which transmits images he viewed through a set of glasses. He purported to be doing “research”.
OK, so far not very good. “Researching” other people’s privacy is also known as invasion of privacy. This is not strictly speaking a First Amendment right, including related freedom of the press, fair use, freedom of speech, and the right of aerial paparazzi to annoy people.
The question is whether drones infringe on people’s rights, not whether people have the right to fly drones. If the use of a drone incurs any plaint for injury, loss of amenity, nuisance, or risk, it’s a problem, not a right. A Peeping Tom, aerial or otherwise, is an invader of privacy. This is no different.
The other problems
It’s also fair to say that if using drones to spy on other people is OK by virtue of lack of law, a plague of incidents will follow. This could get nasty, including people trying to shoot down drones with automatic weapons, attacks on drone operators, justified or not, and more.
So a basic civil law issue could spiral into a full-blown area of legal expertise, in a few minutes, based on lack of law.
...Regardless of whether someone technically had the right to stop me from flying my little UAV over a house, "It's quite another thing to exercise those rights in a court of law," Ravitch (aviation lawyer) said. "If someone does take a Parrot and fly it over your house every day for a year. Are you injured? What are the actual damages?"
In other words: what are you gonna do about it?
"What [property] rights you have beyond what you can physically touch has always been difficult for the law to grapple with," Ravich told me
This is a weak spot, and a real one. Actual contact and touch aren’t the whole story. “Proximity” is an issue whereby a legal injury may be sustained. Proximity to a stressful situation, or being in a situation where circumstances cause stress, is also a litigation zone.
The question of “what injury?” also plays right into the hands of opportunistic litigation. Insert name of injury, real or imagined, here. An innocent user of a drone could be hit with any sort of liability, if you’re prepared to accept the possibility of a drone as a spy by default.
Technology to the courtrooms, please
The other big issue is the capabilities of drones. A good HD video can spot your dandruff. Mount a DSLR camera on your drone, and you can read a computer screen through a window. The risk of serious invasion of privacy is quite real, and quite possible with this technology.
The trouble is that the possibilities created by technology also weigh against drone operators. Depending on the situation, any technology could and would be used against them as circumstantial proof of the ability to do legal injury. Add a bit of innuendo, like “taking videos of my kids”, and you could cause an instant lynch mob. No jury could overlook the possible ramifications, either.
The possible nasty side of drones in the ‘hood
The risk factor, however, blows out when you bear in mind the possible ramifications of technology and drone use against people:
 Kidnapping
 Burglary
 Blackmail
 Extortion
 Coercion
 Murder
 Rape
 Paedophilia
 Security breaches for all the above
There’s nothing trivial about the ability to compromise domestic security. Criminal records around the world are full of case studies.
Possible fix?
Flying drones over someone’s home could be considered reasonable grounds for a complaint of nuisance on principle. That should at least discourage the pesky type of drone operator.
A point before continuing- Owning and using a drone with a camera is not illegal.
Unless it is, there should be acknowledgement of the right to operate a drone, within constraints of privacy and nuisance. It should be necessary to prove to a court that there were grounds to consider that a drone is more than a nuisance to go to litigation. Law enforcement should have the discretionary powers to charge anyone with related offences, if required.
Drones are very cheap, and very easy to buy, anywhere in the world. This issue needs fixing, now.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Drones, spy drones civil law, spy drones criminal law, First amendment, surveillance drones
Latest News
Top News