What happens legally if you shoot someone's drone out of the sky?

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/27/what-happens-legally-if-you-sh.html


Millennium Falcon drone.


Given his penchant for violating his neighbor’s airspace, it’s only unfortunate that it didn’t go down over someone else’s property - that would have made things really interesting. “I want my drone back!” “Nope/What drone?”


While I’m not anti-drone I haven’t had a nice experience with one yet. Several times I’ve gone to a park to read and had to quickly leave due to a drone loudly buzzing overhead, and another time a drone creepily hung around a sunbathing friend I was with. In each situation I looked around for the operator hoping that I could have a conversation and just ask them to move it to the empty field across the road, and each time I was unable to find them.

It’s worrying, because I feel like the old man on this issue, but public space shouldn’t be dominated or made creepy for a hobby, and privacy is different when you can’t even find the person with the camera. At what point are they akin to a shoe camera?

edit: I do think they’re cool and we need to figure out how to use them. (Legislation is almost certainly going to be terrible). But there are considerations.


Trespass? Can an inanimate object trespass? If the drone caused any damage, the owner would clearly be liable, but I doubt a jury would award a penny for pain and suffering.

On the other hand, shooting the damn thing is intentional property damage, and probably a firearms violation too.


Consider that the primary use of hobbyist drones seems to be getting a view of things from otherwise unattainable viewpoints, and I think it becomes quite realistic to consider them capable of trespass.

Common physical privacy measures assume certain limitations of a “peeper” such as height and mobility being those of an average human. Drones can easily peer into second-story windows that might otherwise be considered sufficiently private, and they can obviously hover over yards, rendering privacy fences and landscaping ineffective.

I suspect that laws regarding recording of individuals still apply here, but in a case where you cannot necessarily see both the recorder and the camera at the same time, how can such things be enforced?


Pain and suffering became a think precisely because juries are okay awarding plaintiffs more money, mostly to punish the defendant. I would expect you could get pain and suffering out of some juries if even if absolutely nothing went wrong except the trespass.

Firearms laws are sometimes the only law that comes into play, usually on a municipal level: firing a firearm within the limits of most major cities is a crime of some sort (often misdemeanor). But in unincorporated country or municipalities that don’t have an interest in criminalizing it, it’ll be fine.

Assuming you don’t get in trouble for firing a gun per se, all bets are off. His drone may or may not be breaking any laws being over your property. It really depends on the state. If his drone gets shot because it was on your property, it’s probably just unfortunate for him.

So depending on your city state, either both parties are at fault, or neither, or only the drone operator, or only the guy firing the gun. And suddenly the idea of FAA control and licensing looks a lot more reasonable.

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Firing a crime for no reason is a crime. For example, you can’t go after someone who legally fires their gun at an armed burglar for “firing a gun within city limits” or other such nonsense.

I think an interesting legal argument could be made out in the country, where it would be legal to target shoot.

If I’m allowed to fire my gun into the air on my own property, why should someone tresspassing onto my land interfere with my peaceful enjoyment?

The article even states that there’s case law that the air up to 83 feet above your property is yours.

Also, frankly, I think we’re too hung up on the legal aspects here. If someone wants to come onto my property to take photos of me and invade my privacy, and I can end that practice without hurting any people, is that bad?


I don’t know the legal arguments, but some observations, in terms of right or wrong: If someone is flying a drone with an intent to get images of your kids in their bedrooms, That is wrong, and should be illegal. Probably any time where the drone is used to bypass someone’s reasonable expectation of privacy, this is the case.
So if I see a drone hovering near my house, there are a couple of possibilities. I have about 8 miles of shared borders with the National Forest. the boundaries are pretty clearly marked at ground level, but might not be noticed from the air. It could be someone looking for wildlife or the like. If they can legally fly it in the National Forest, it might have strayed. It would be wrong to shoot it down in that case.
Or, it could be someone casing the place for a robbery. You cannot even see the house or outbuildings from ground level without trespassing. So in that case, the drone is being used to facilitate an illegal act.
I can be pretty sure of knowing when a drone is over my property. Someone in a more suburban area might not be able to tell that definitively.
Any countermeasures that I could employ, like an IR cutting laser, would be very illegal to use on aircraft. if I knocked down a drone with a shotgun, I might be able to argue that I was Trapshooting or that I thought it was a pheasant. Even though the laser would do less damage, by frying the camera without necessarily knocking it down, it would be pretty hard to argue that I was not targeting the drone.
There are no restrictions on shooting guns here, and we do it a lot. A load of buckshot fired into the air from the house could not possibly come down outside my property.
It is an interesting question.


climbs up on roof with bucket of paint
"Please fly your drone somewhere else. Thanks."

For mer thisis a bit like kicking a misbehaving dog. It’s not the dog that needs kicking but its owner.

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That’s a nice chunka property. Over 250 acres by my reckoning (assuming house at the center and given that 00 pellets can travel as far as 1900 ft.) Although effective shotgun range is admittedly much much shorter.

I would say that knowing where your shots are going to end up is critically important.

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