Last year, I wrote a blog on the increasing presence of drones (Flying the Fraudly Skies) and the potential uses for business applications, crime and investigative operations. Ten months later, we now have a drone and privacy conundrum.
The Great Drone Debate
The number of permits issued by the FAA for commercial drone usage continues to rise and businesses are experimenting with innovative ways to service customers: Drone Delivers Frozen Yogurt to Michigan Campus. (USA Today, October 6, 2016). Like college students need more excuses NOT to leave their dorm rooms!
While citizens may view commercial drone applications more clearly, situations surrounding non-commercial flights over individual residences are cloudy indeed.
In fact, recent events around the country involving drones flying over private property suggest that drones suspected of spying are facing a far more destructive fate than computers used in crimes against the public ever did.
At the heart of the issue is airspace ownership vs. a homeowner’s right to privacy. The old adage, your home is your castle, is most people’s mantra. Apparently, uninvited flying pests, toting video cameras, are not welcomed in our backyards.
The inevitable result? Small drones flying over private property are more regularly being downed by surface to air shotguns in growing numbers:
July 2015: A Louisville, Kentucky man was arrested and charged criminally after he shot down a drone hovering over his property. Young ladies, who often lay out by the pool, said that “a drone hovering with a camera is creepy and weird.”
Other neighbors expressed what is quickly becoming common sentiment, “you should have a right to privacy in your own backyard.” In October 2015, charges against the homeowner were dismissed by a judge who cited the homeowner’s privacy rights.
August 2016: A rural Virginia woman, who lives next door to actor Robert Duvall, grounded a drone hovering over her property with a shotgun. Likely piloted by nosy paparazzi, it was thought to be trying to get a “money shot” of the actor after a reported health incident.
September 2016: In what has possibly become the most entertaining drone vs. homeowner incident, television personality Mike Rowe (Host of “Dirty Jobs”) was recently awakened from a sound sleep by a buzzing noise outside his Bay Area residence. Rowe apparently went outside (in his birthday suit) with his shotgun to investigate the drone spying on him but opted against downing it with a barrage of flying pellets.
Shooting Drones is a Federal Crime
History has proven that technology constantly outpaces the legal system as device manufacturers develop new technology faster than U.S. legislators can draft and pass new laws regulating usage.
In their infancy, this was definitely the case with computer hacking and Internet crimes. It has also proven to be the case with the small drone market as well. However, the FAA is claiming that shooting a drone is actually a federal offense, citing the existing Aircraft Sabotage Law (Title 18 USC 32 – Destruction of Aircraft or Aircraft Facilities).
That law aside, given the rash of shotgun vs. drone incidents around the country, state and local jurisdictions are quickly drafting legislation on their own. The proposed harassment laws are designed to protect citizen’s privacy from intrusive activities like those resulting in drones being blasted from the sky.
The Bottom Line
One of the most compelling issues in the drone debacle involves the question of airspace ownership. While homeowners may think that drones flying over their property infringe on personal property rights, legal opinions on “who owns air” aren’t black and white.
The other, more prevalent, issue involves the great privacy debate. Likely if drones weren’t carrying high-resolution cameras people’s arguments that they were being “spied upon” would be far less compelling.
For now, however, the drone issue is up in the air. But expect to see more incidents of shotgun vs. drone obliteration cases hitting the ground near you as the friendly skies are filled with more commercial and non-commercial drones.
Like all new technology, the law will catch up eventually. Meanwhile, for Mike Rowe’s sake, hopefully no online videos surface of him standing on his deck naked, armed with a shotgun and perplexingly gazing towards the heavens.
About the Author: Daniel Draz is a recognized leader in the fraud profession. Fraud Solutions provides innovative enterprise fraud risk management consulting, fraud strategies, fraud risk assessments, fraud training, fraud content, subject matter expertise, thought leadership and insightful observations to clients across industry verticals. Draz has an M.S. in Economic Crime Management, is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Fellow of the Governance and Accountability Institute, frequent industry trainer, keynote speaker, author and often quoted expert in industry, trade, online and news publications.