It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s an Arrest Warrant?

August 12th, 2015 by Attorney Dan Carman

Drone Privacy Laws

Pilotless drones patrolling the nation’s skies have been raising privacy and security concerns as they have grown in popularity over the last decade. Technically called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones are computer-controlled for nearly their entire flight, though they have the capacity for autonomous flight and navigation. Originally restricted to government and military use, commercially available drones are now enjoyed by hobbyists and professionals alike. The Federal Aviation Administration has estimated that by the year 2030, there will be more than 30,000 private unmanned vehicles competing for U.S. airspace. Yet, oversight is severely lacking.

The need for regulations on commercial drone technology became particularly obvious after one crashed on the White House lawn earlier this year.

Last month, a man in Bullitt County brought a drone crashing down on another lawn – by shooting it out of the sky. William Merideth of Hillview was told by his kids of a drone mounted with a camera flying over neighbors’ yards, including that of a neighbor with a sunbathing teenage daughter. Deciding that it hovered too long at low altitude over his property, Merideth fired his shotgun, hit the drone in mid-air and caused it to crash. After an unpleasant visit by the owners of the drone allegedly valued at $1,800, he was arrested and charged with wanton endangerment and criminal mischief. Officials cited an ordinance against discharging firearms in the city and pointed out the hazards to those on the ground that can result from shooting at anything in the air. Echoing the sentiments of many, Merideth equates the drone’s behavior with trespassing and is planning on pursuing legal action of his own against the owners for invasion of privacy.

The case has gained national attention as the laws are still evolving. While there are video, voyeurism and trespassing laws, there do not appear to be any Kentucky or federal statutes relating to privacy specifically involving drones. The general consensus is that as long as the drone isn’t trying to physically hurt you, current law doesn’t allow you to do much besides call the police. Violent retaliation in the name of “self-defense” isn’t allowed. Communities in Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Massachusetts, as well as the states of Oregon and Tennessee, have passed regulations on drones. Federal, state and local officials are pushing legislation that would impose steep penalties on people convicted of using drones that interfere with firefighting efforts or commercial airliners.

If you have questions about how drones and privacy law might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. As criminal defense attorneys with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.