As drones become increasingly accessible and popular, they can be seen almost everywhere, if you look or listen hard enough.
With the proliferation of drones, comes the added feeling, in many, of a perceived loss of privacy. As curiosity about drones quickly turns to disdain by many in local communities, shooting down drones has become newsworthy.
Under Title 18 US Code 32 of the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act, shooting down a drone is illegal and violators can be subject to up to a maximum of 20 years in prison!
While we at Droneblog do not give any legal advice, in this article we will look at one law in particular, here in the US, that will help individuals understand the seriousness of shooting down drones, on a national level.
Why would anyone want to shoot down a drone?
It all boils down to one thing: privacy, or the perceived violation of one’s privacy. Plain and Simple.
Sadly, there are a few misconceptions the public has when drones come into play, being: that drones are commonly used to spy on people and their property and that the air over their property is, well, theirs or owned by them.
Misconception 1: Spying
With anything that is not fully understood by the public, myths and urban legends abound. One such thought is that all drone operators are looking to spy on people in the neighborhood.
This is a thought many have, not just of hobbyists, but also of local authorities and even utility companies that use drones in their daily operations.
You may have heard the horror stories of photographers doing real estate shoots and being accosted by local homeowners who think the photographers are “spying” on them.
One such incident was filmed by a well-known drone Youtuber when they were doing a simple real estate property shoot.
Recently, when I was doing a roof damage assessment after a hurricane, the client’s next-door neighbor walked up to me and asked how I could be spying on people’s homes in broad daylight.
After kindly and politely explaining the job I was doing, I allowed her to observe my screen while doing runs over the entirety of the roof.
Her exact words: “Oh, you can’t see anything on that tiny screen. And as loud as that thing is, you couldn’t possibly spy on anyone without them knowing…”
This is just one of the thousands of interactions drone operators might have with local neighbors while flying. Education, in this case, is the best medicine.
Misconception 2: Air Ownership
This is an area that most homeowners do not fully understand. At first glance, many, if not most, people figure that they own not only the land their home sits on and the land under their home but also all of the air above their home.
In the ruling of the case between the United States vs Causby back in 1946/1947, the atmospheric rule was put in place in favor of the US government.
This is where the owner of any said property only has possession of the airspace above their property that they can reasonably use, such as for adding more stories to their homes/structures, etc.
Everything else above that reasonable usage height is designated for aircraft airspace.
Notice we said “aircraft airspace” and not just manned aircraft. This definition of aircraft pertains to drones as well, as they are unmanned aircraft.
While drones should not fly higher than 400ft AGL (above ground level, unless within 400ft of a taller object), they follow the rules of the airspace below that 400ft mark, including flights above the properties below.
What does this all mean? It means that while it might be legal to fly over someone’s property, there is an expectation of privacy that should be considered.
Even though we have the right to do something, should we? As responsible drone operators, whether flying as a hobbyist or as commercial professionals, we should do all we can to avoid privacy issues, within reason.
Laws protecting drones
For anyone flying a drone for a hobby or professionally, the FAA or, The Federal Aviation Administration is the governing entity enforcing airspace laws.
The FAA is the largest transportation agency in the U.S. and is tasked with regulating all aspects of civil aviation in the United States. Its regulatory powers include air traffic management, certification of personnel and aircraft, setting standards for airports, enforcement of aviation laws and statutes, etc.
Drones fall under the umbrella of the FAA. Just ask anyone who registers their drone or wants to become a certified Part 107 drone operator. As such, there are laws that have been created, prior to the launch of drones, that currently protect drones and their operators.
Title 18 US Code 32 of the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act
Following is a quote pertaining to Title 18 US Code 32 of the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act, that applies to drones now:
Amendments to 18 U.S.C. § 32 enacted in 1984 expand United States jurisdiction over aircraft sabotage to include destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce.
The United States Department of Justice Archives
Because of the broad language used in the 1984 Aircraft Sabotage Act (destruction of any aircraft) coupled with the current designation of drones as unmanned aircraft, drone operators have legal protection from acts of violence against drones.
The FAA takes destructive acts against drones quite seriously, as drones fall within their jurisdiction.
Destructive acts include anything that would cause damage to an aircraft (ie drone), whether an intentionally set fire or gunfire, to name a few. These destructive acts are aimed at disrupting the flight of or destroying an aircraft.
Because of the language used, any anti-drone technology used to disrupt a drone’s flight, or bring a drone down for that matter, is considered illegal in the U.S., this includes netguns.
As an aside, law enforcement agencies are permitted to use certain tactics to down drones, if those drones are deemed dangerous to lives and property in certain instances.
From the perspective of a homeowner fearing that their privacy is being continually invaded, downing a drone with a firearm might seem like a viable solution.
As seen in this article, shooting down a drone is an illegal Federal offense in the U.S. and comes with a slew of legal woes, as we are seeing reported more frequently on the news.
It is best, before picking up a weapon of any sort to bring down a drone, to consider the potentially exorbitant jail time and fines that could be incurred by doing so, and then calmly speak with the drone operator.