The Rise [and Fall] Of The Machines: California Man Accused Of Property Damage After Videotape Shows Him Swatting Drone Out Of The Air

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 7.20.10 AMIn a case that is likely to be repeated with greater regularity in the coming years, a man is accused of criminal damage to property in swatting a drone out of the air in California. Many people view the increasing use of drones with cameras to be a nuisance and have taken actions against the drones or their operators, as we previously discussed. In this case, however, the neighbor of Michael Luzansky, owner of Lucky7Drones, has his neighbor on videotape walking across the street to swat the drone out of the air with his teeshirt. It seems like a rather straight-forward case of criminal damage but it raises the issue of what reasonable limitation should be put on drone operators who are irritating people on beaches and parks with this new technology.

There is no question that this is a technology that has justifiably upset many people who do not want drones with cameras hovering over them with cameras in public spaces. There are many people who have acted like complete morons including the case discussed earlier of a drone operator who crashed a drone into a protected hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. There is also a rising concern over midair collisions with drones like the recent incident involving a passenger plane.

However, as with the woman who attacked a drone operator, the neighbor in Huntington Beach clearly violated the law in swatting down the drone. The drone was a few feet off the road and not above the neighbor’s property. The man warned him not to fly the drone over his property but then walked over into a public area and knocked the drone out of the air. The result was damage to the drone. Luzansky posted the videotape to “Stop the drone violence. We want to educate people.”

He is seeking $1,400 and an apology.

DJI_Phantom_1_1530564aThere should be reasonable limitations placed on this technology. Unfortunately, drone operators want to use parks for their recreation. Yet, these drones not only feel like an invasion of privacy due to their cameras but people fear having drones hovering over or near them. The result is that they can undermine the enjoyment of parks for others. In national parks, drones destroy the sense of natural conditions and remoteness as some drone jockey maneuvers the machine over pristine or once remote areas. Even though these are public areas, you can have a privacy interest in close surveillance. The new technology raises some interesting issues of intrusion upon seclusion and a comparison to Nader v. General Motors Corp., where Ralph Nader was able to show that GM hired detectives to follow him closely. One such instance involved looking over his shoulder at banks to read his bank slips, which was found to be an intrusion upon seclusion even though it was a public place.

The question is whether a relatively small number of drone enthusiasts should be allowed to ruin such experiences for others. What is interesting is that, unlike model planes that operate in special areas, drone operators appear to prefer populated areas. While most enjoy the technology, there is also a voyeuristic interest in some using this camera to observe areas at the twist or tug of a toggle switch. Unless we find some reasonable regulations, these type of confrontations will increase and could easily become more violent.

41 thoughts on “The Rise [and Fall] Of The Machines: California Man Accused Of Property Damage After Videotape Shows Him Swatting Drone Out Of The Air”

  1. you destroy my$1400 drone when I am flying it over public property,and I wi
    L likely beat your ass on the spot.Imwill also have you in court for criminal vandalism..You have no right to or expectation of a right to privacy in public.

  2. i am glad this guy did this. These drones are annoying and I am sure the drone flyer is out there all the time flying it around. The neighbor probably got fed up and knocked it down. I am 100% on the side of the guy who knocked it down.

  3. Legal or not, my only concern is the safety of others. Blow ’em out of the sky, all of them. Devices have been made and demonstrated that can capture control, that would work and I wouldn’t care if the drone is private or government. They have no business looking at me any where, any time. Right on for the swatter!

  4. Steg said …

    What’s right and what’s legal are often at swords points.

    Yep. Therein lies the problem. Normal people control their vehicles, but someone determined to be hit is hard to avoid. I’m not counting jay-walkers on busy city streets, and the like. I like the idea of a “dash cam” and may just add that myself 🙂 A video of a guy literally jumping up on my hood at 10 mph would be great.

  5. Steg, You’re welcome. I need to understand privacy doing surveillance. It’s really pretty common sense, but there can be areas of gray.

  6. Thanks, Nick. I noticed the neighbor does have a wooden fence about 6′ high when the press tries to get comments from him.

    Paul, I think we’ll just disagree on this. I don’t think you are acknowledging my points fairly. Oh well! This was fun :).

  7. You do not have a right to privacy in your own yard, if your yard is in plain view from the street. If you put up a privacy fence and someone, or something like a drone, hovers to see you, then it is an invasion of privacy. But, if you’re in your yard and in plain view, there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

  8. Paul, absolutely you should. Do you have any source for showing this started in the man’s yard, as opposed to the video which shows him advancing on the drone in a public street? The google maps car records our front yards, and while they blot out faces- there is a definitive invasion of privacy there. Maybe I don’t consent to my house being on the map. I don’t remember them asking my permission to display it.

    Your second thesis is flat out countered by the video above. I know you watched it, how come we are seeing different things? At the 30 second mark, the drone takes off. You can see it’s trajectory as basically stable and coming straight up to about three feet. You can also note the growing shadow of the neighbor as he advances towards the drone.

    Saying this drone operator was flying too close to that man is like getting a restraining order on your ex and then showing up at their house to force them into violation of it.

    1. Steg – you ever watch the show Community where the professor has a restraining order on Chang so he cannot get within 25 (I think that is it) feet of him. Very funny. Anyway. Still too close. The fact that the guy can swat it with his t-shirt is evidence it was too close.

      I know that Google had to pay a few people for invading their privacy, like the couple they caught boinking. And they have been sued several times. It took 3 years for my house to show up on Google maps and I am not sure if it ever showed up on Google car.

  9. I am elstegosaur… wrong email on mobile phone yesterday.

    Paul – I thought we had no expectation of privacy in a public setting? We can be filmed in public, like all the businesses that have their security cams pointed at the sidewalk or street. I agree with your position that you have a right to defend yourself, but- if my car is idling, pointed in your direction, can you walk up to it and pretend to get hit and claim self defense? I know that’s not an exact analogy, but the guy in the video clearly walked up to the thing and hit it. He could have moved the other direction. Plus, if we extrapolate based on the current political climate- everything is a potential threat. Blind man? Serial groper waiting to strike. Puppy? Vicious monster with the outward cute disguise to lure in it’s prey- THE CHILDREN. Cat? MOUNTAIN LION! Perception is everything. Is a camera pointed at you- yes, an invasion of privacy if you don’t want it- a legitimate threat of physical bodily harm or violence which begets a physical response claiming self defense?

    Aridog – That is an abomination of justice. What’s right and what’s legal are often at swords points. While it may be legal to jump in front of a car and claim the driver was out of control, couldn’t a dash cam counter the jumper? “See, your honor, I was clearly doing the speed limit- Mr. Jones was standing way ahead of me on the side of the street between two parked cars, and rapidly entered the street when it would have been impossible for me to correct or adjust my vehicle for his behavior.”

    I had a dash cam in my car for awhile, it burned out. I think it’s time to get another one.

    1. Steg – don’t you have right to privacy in your own yard? That is where this started. And after the incident where the singer sliced his fingers trying to catch one, the t-shirt was the perfect weapon. What do we use to swat an annoying bug? t-shirt is effective.

      Then my second thesis, the operator was flying to close to the human. He was creating a hazard. From the singer’s video we know they are dangerous so self-defense is on the table. The operator should have flown it back to its base.

  10. elstegosaur … in many states the driver would be at fault due to failing to have his vehicle under control…e.g., pedestrians always have the right of way. It gets dicey when the person waits to the last minute then leaps in front of a car…but it happens here, too…usually for slower moving cars…then the pedestrian sues for damages…e.g., a an intentional act and frequently wins a small award. A guy I fired (federal civil servant no less) did just that a week after I’d fired him for being “useless”…for which he got $3500 from the feds (due to my choice of words that the EEOC found discriminatory) and who knows from the driver.

  11. The guy clearly walked up to the thing and hit it! If I walk in front of a driving car on purpose how is it the driver’s fault?

    1. considering that it is a flying camera and is pointed in my direction, he is invading my privacy. he may have a right to fly his drone so low that it is a danger to others, I can swat my t-shirt to protect myself and others from a potential threat. Either defense works.

  12. If it was in my yard then I would call it a trespass with criminal intent and capture or wreck the thing any way possible. If I am in public and its “in my space” I would swat it down like this guy did. If prosecuted I would have a friend release a lot of mosquitos loose in trial and have the jurors be irritated by them. Picking a jury would be fun. During the evidence portion in my case I would have a drone demonstration in the confines of the courtroom if the judge would allow it or at the least offer videos of drones in tight places.

  13. This guy just needs to show the judge a photo of Enrique Iglesias’ hand, or any of the other drone injuries in the news. I think they could wrap up this case pretty quickly.

    1. BarkingDog – most towns and cities have laws about discharging firearms within the city limits. 🙂

  14. If the guy can swat it down with his shirt it is within his personal space. The drone is flying too close and the operator is being careless. He deserves no apology and no money.

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