Man Uses Private Drone To Spy On Neighbors

220px-Aeryon_Scout_In_FlightThere 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.

Source: Betabeat

31 thoughts on “Man Uses Private Drone To Spy On Neighbors”

  1. One shot from a shot Gun gun would solve the problem.

  2. I wonder how difficult it would be to mount bottle-rockets on a “drone-of-one’s-own?”

  3. Plus, I was, of course, joking. While I would certainly feel very comfortable dispatching a copperhead on my lawn, only a maniac would shoot in the air at some freak’s model airplane.

  4. Depending on how “in the city” you are, here we get a fine, at worst, for discharging a firearm within the city limits. What are you going to do if you see a copperhead wandering up your back lawn?

  5. You’re right about that hopey, “change is gonna come” garbage, lottakatz. What was I thinking, yesterday?

    How The CIA Tried To Turn A Cat Into A Cyborg Spy

    Misadventure though it was, the agency’s Operation Acoustic Kitty was a visionary idea 50 years ahead of its time.

    By Emily Anthes Posted 05.08.2013 at 10:30 am

    http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-05/cias-cyborg-cat

    (Frankenstein’s Cat: : Cuddling Up To Biotech’s Brave New Beasts, by Emily Anthes, is available on Amazon. Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    Comment by quasi44: “CIA has been taking their orders from Berkowitz’s neighbors’ dog Sam for years now. The job was likely to suicide the cat. Sam isn’t a good boy or a nice dog.”

  6. Well, maybe a self-defense plea would work. And, IIRC, it’s lawful to use lethal force to resist violation of Civil Rights….

  7. I’ve been waiting for this story since I first started reading about small, home built or bought drones. It didn’t take long.

    Dredd, if the drone hobby catches on I’m sure that drone jamming tech will become part of a cable-service bundle. 🙂

  8. and recieve free bracelets and ride to new home for discharging a firearm in the city limits

  9. Sounds like fun. Free sporting clays courtesy of the neighbors ! Use a 410 or 20 instead of a 12 to make it last a little longer.

  10. I agree with the privacy issue. But what about the government drones, many run by private contractors in areas where we make war? Do they have the right to use their special technology to peep into my bedroom or anywhere else on my property? The technology was visible when they looked for and found that alleged Boston bomber. I foresee government drones peeping wherever they want without the same kinds of warrants they use when eavesdropping on phone calls by news reporters.

  11. It looked like a vulture when I shot it down. It was not damaged much when it hit the ground but I mistakenly ran over it with the tractor and its in pieces. I kept the pieces as evidence of a perp trying to look at my naked dog pal in the back yard. The perp showed up to get his drone and we photographed him. His photo is in the outhouse. One on the wall for dart practice and the other photos are printed on toilet paper for wiping things down. Anyone who wants to put a camera on the plane and look in my bedroom window is gonna get his plane shot down and his weenie wacked off if he comes near my property on foot.

  12. From The New American:

    A number of privacy groups have petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the proposed increase in the use of aerial drones in the United States. More than 30 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center — which have also served as key opponents to the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security — have demanded that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider all the violations to American privacy and safety posed by the proposal.

    Source: http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/8197-privacy-rights-groups-fight-faa-on-use-of-drones-in-us

    The FAA is going to have to walk a fine line on this issue. On the one hand there is the popularity of radio control models by hobbyists. There are pressures from both commercial and public groups, such as real estate companies, public utilities, news reporters, and law enforcement. The first successful use of a drone in Canada by a law enforcement agency was finding a lost child in a forest

    The problems created by using remote control aircraft for being a peeping tom or other less than savory activity is going to jeopardize legitimate uses for this new technology. The invention and sudden popularity of First Person View (FPV) equipment has been a game changer, and technology is advancing a lot faster than any regulating body can keep up with.

  13. a wrist rocket with marbles would do the trick. or a big butterfly net if it was close enough to the ground.

  14. one of my claims in the third party federal lawsuit under diversity that DoJ put me in jail for pursuing was that the convicted felon who was president of the Steamboat Springs Colorado city council, Kevin Bennett, threatened to shoot the children of someone who wanted to buy my property. It was under diversity because I moved out of state.

  15. Let’s see, what’s a good knock out for a small camera equipped drone? If drone owner is not trespassing then homeowner does no wrong by taking out the non-trespassing drone, right? Then if drone owner wishes to debate the issues further, well then…

  16. He may very well have that right…. And I very well have the right to take it down if its over my property….. Do I technology become the owner of lost or mislaid property…..

  17. Does this mean I can knock it out of the air with a pellet gun? And if it falls on my property, I get to keep it ?

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