Ladies, imagine with me for a moment you’re enjoying the summer sun in the privacy of your backyard, laying out in a swimsuit, diving into a good book, when unbeknownst to you, a small unmanned aircraft equipped with a high-definition digital camera is recording your every move for an operator who is nowhere in sight.
This was the reality for one Orlando woman, when a neighbor who is a drone hobbyist decided to invade her property’s airspace.
In the Orlando case, an unmanned drone fell dangerously out of the sky and was obtained by WKMG-TV. The news station was able to view the footage on the camera, which showed the aircraft viewing the woman tanning, before it plunged out of the sky near a traffic-filled street.
Cases have popped up across the nation of drone “hobbyists” using their unmanned drones in ways that have drawn concern from those within viewshot.
As the hotly debated issue of government use of unmanned aircraft for the purpose of surveillance remains at the forefront of national politics, another question has been raised: What about private citizens using surveillance drones?
Under current FAA regulations for hobbyists using an RC system, the operator must be in sight of the device.
In the Orlando case, the operator had lost sight of the drone when it plunged to the street.
For private citizens who are uneasy over the idea of individuals having the ability to use drones to spy: You have good reason to be concerned.
While existing law is very clear on trespassing on private property when it comes to land, it is much more vague when it comes to airspace. Under common law, persons who owned property owned it from “the depths to the heavens.” However, the 1946 Supreme Court case U.S. v. Causby ruled that it had no effect in the modern world, as far as air rights are concerned.
The Causby case dealt with government aircrafts, not privately owned citizens’ air crafts, leaving the legal door open for interpretation.
It’s frightening to consider the potential for privacy invasion in one’s own home under the status quo. Most quality HD cameras have the zooming capability to see through windows into the inner dwellings of Americans’ homes. What a scary thought — that Americans might have no legal grounds to control the immediate airspace above and around their home.
The law regarding property rights and airspace must be reexamined to set clear guidelines for private unmanned surveillance aircrafts. An individual’s choice in hobby does not grant them the right to infringe on my right or yours to privacy on our own property.