There was an interesting confrontation in Seattle this week where a man flew a drone just feet away from a family home. The drone was camera-equipped and the mother called police. Before the man left, he insisted that he had a right to use a private drone to surveil his neighbors. No it is not John Ashcroft’s neighborhood. I wanted to clarify a couple of points before others take to the air for some private snooping.
The man reportedly told the mother that he was not trespassing in the use of a private drone. It is certainly true that the Supreme Court has ruled against private property claims over airspace. The Court rejected the ancient precept of cuius est solum, eius est usque ad caelum et ad inferos (“For whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven and down to Hell.”). The ruling in United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946) rejected such absolute claims but noted that there were limits on government interference under the Takings Clause:
We have said that the airspace is a public highway. Yet it is obvious that if the landowner is to have full enjoyment of the land, he must have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere. Otherwise buildings could not be erected, trees could not be planted, and even fences could not be run. The principle is recognized when the law gives a remedy in case overhanging structures are erected on adjoining land. The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as the can occupy or use in connection with the land. . . . The fact that he does not occupy it in a physical sense—by the erection of buildings and the like—is not material. . . . We would not doubt that if the United States erected an elevated railway over respondents’ land at the precise altitude where its planes now fly, there would be a partial taking, even though none of the supports of the structure rested on the land. The reason is that there would be an intrusion so immediate and direct as to subtract from the owner’s full enjoyment of the property and to limit his exploitation of it. While the owner does not in any physical manner occupy that stratum of airspace or make use of it in the conventional sense, he does use it in somewhat the same sense that space left between buildings for the purpose of light and air is used.
This obviously deals with government interference. The intrusion in Seattle dealt with private action. Yet, both the government and private parties are subject to common law protections of privacy, which recognizes that the privacy of a home includes its curtilage or area surrounding the home. This includes government surveillance requiring a warrant.
Under the Second Restatement, citizens may sue for violations of the intrusion upon seclusion:
652B Intrusion Upon Seclusion
One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
This would seem to qualify. Any photos taken would also be subject to litigation for the public disclosure of embarrassing private facts. If close enough to a window, it is even possible to argue trespass under a curtilage theory, but the privacy claims are stronger. There are also criminal laws governing harassment and stalking that could be applicable.
In other words, this private drone operator needs to rethink not only his concept of civility but legality in his bizarre form of recreation.
31 thoughts on “Man Uses Private Drone To Spy On Neighbors”
I have a quick, albeit temporary solution — a flashlight. Walk out and shine a high powered flashlight at the drone’s camera lens. There is really no defense for this. None at all.
Speaking of drones, the AUMF, the Authorization on the Use of Military Force law that’s used to justify their use (on anyone) and just about anything else this or the Bush administration wants to was addressed in a hearing yesterday:
The Forever War
“The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Thursday about the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the legislation that gave President George W. Bush the authority to wage war against “those who planned, authorized, committed or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks…..
For instance Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said war against Al Qaeda would continue “at least 10 to 20 years” and that the statute “suits us very well.” ”
I liked it better when “The Forever War” was a novel by Joe Haldeman. I still recall on of the problems that the Earth-force had in dealing with the enemy, they attacked from the future and we responded from the past. Same thing happening here. “They” make a move we have’t experienced from ‘them’ before and we alter our entire culture and laws to guard against it happening again. Meanwhile, ‘they’ are coming up with a new tactic or action which we are not prepared for. We lose and in the instant case, our Constitution is savaged. Yea, it was more entertaining as a novel.
pcmodz, when they start playing Ride of the Valkyrie’s I’m heading for the bunker! LOL
DobBiscuitGuy – You are not a maniac. I live in the “semi-country”. I have an acre and a half by a lake but I do have neighbors. If I lived on a few acres far out of the city, I would feel free to shoot it down as well.
Thanks lottakatz! Now I have visions of animal control officers using these drones to hunt down the poor strays in the neighborhood while playing Wagner.
AP: …” mostly strays that I nurse back to life so that they can live like royalty for the remainder of their natural lives.”
Dogs have masters, cats have staff 🙂 Our kitties have historically been strays also; strays gotta’ live somewhere after all.
I forgot the technically clean version of sling shots… Aka….. I think if its pesty enough then a high power pellet rifle should do the trick or a high powered water sprayer should do the trick….
First hearty laugh of the day, lottakatz. Thanks. (Two cats at the moment and many more over the years…, mostly strays that I nurse back to life so that they can live like royalty for the remainder of their natural lives. There may be a web site for cats with my address.)
Eric: I am a maniac. I guess if you live in the country you have a different view point about your airspace and some snoop with a drone flying over your outhouse interrupting your peace and quiet while you are trying to do two things at once which is read he Sears Roebuck catalogue and wipe your arse with it.
AP, Great story! I read the link and it’s pretty obvious from the choice of ‘spy’ that the folks cooking up these schemes have no life outside of the office. TRAIN a cat, to do anything? Srsly? The cat didn’t wander into the street, s/he committed suicide rather than be treated with such disrespect. If you have cats you know that’s true. 🙂
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