Do you have the right to shoot a drone out of the sky over your property? Maybe – and maybe not

Monday, January 18, 2016 by

( He became known as the “Drone Slayer” after blasting one out of the sky that was hovering over his Kentucky home as the owner of the craft, he believed, was using it to spy on his sunbathing daughter.

In August William Merideth, 47, owner of a trucking company, had just finished grilling dinner for his family, when he noticed the drone hovering over his property. Grabbing his Benelli shotgun, he fired three rounds of birdshot at the craft, mortally wounding it.

“Sunday afternoon, the kids – my girls – were out on the back deck, and the neighbors were out in their yard,” Merideth said. “And they come in and said, ‘Dad, there’s a drone out here, flying over everybody’s yard.'”

He added that his neighbors also saw it.

“It was just hovering above our house and it stayed for a few moments and then she finally waved and it took off,” added neighbor Kim VanMeter, who has a 16-year-old daughter who likes to sun herself by the family pool. She said that hovering drones that are equipped with cameras are creepy.

“I just think you should have privacy in your own back yard,” VanMeter said, according to Natural News.

Merideth agreed, but initially, the police did not. The owner of the drone called the cops after he downed it and they arrested him, charging him with first degree criminal mischief. Eventually, a court found him not guilty; now, however, the drone owner, John Boggs, is suing Merideth in federal court. He claims he was just trying to take pictures of the scenery, the Washington Post reports. Boggs, in his suit, claims the government has the right to regulate all airspace above the blades of grass in your yard.

“The FAA is responsible for the safety and management of U.S. airspace from the ground up,” an agency spokesman told the Post, repeating rules laid out on its website.

But is that right? The law and previous federal court cases are not clear.

“There is gray area in terms of how far your property rights extend,” Jeramie Scott, national security counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center [EPIC], told the Post. “It’s going to need to be addressed sooner rather than later as drones are integrated into the national airspace.”

Common law has long held that your property extends “all the way to Heaven.” And it is clear that homeowners indeed have some rights. In the past developers and some cities have sold rights to the air above buildings. If a neighbor’s tree extends over your fence into your yard, you can cut it off.

Further, the Post noted:

The rise of air travel initially sparked questions about where those rights end and flyable space begins. The issue reached the Supreme Court during the 1940s in a case called United States v. Causby after a farmer brought a suit against the government over low-flying military planes’ taking off and landing from a nearby airport. The planes, he said, forced him out of the chicken business — and he wanted compensation.

The Court granted him that relief, and stated that a property owner owns “at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.” But the case still did not clearly define aerial parameters for property owners. Boggs hopes his case will clear that up, and in his favor.

The issue is becoming critically important, as more than 700,000 drones were sold last year alone.

“This industry is growing quickly — and it’s to some extent being stifled by the legal uncertainty surrounding these issues,” James Mackler, an attorney at Frost Brown Todd, who represents Boggs, told the Post.

Boggs is asking a court to grant him $1,500 in relief – the cost of the drone he lost – but also to clear up, once and for all, who has the right to regulate or manage airspace above private property, at least to a certain height.

There are complicating factors though, such as, both men are telling different versions of the same story. Boggs claims his craft was about 200 feet above Merideth’s home, but the Drone Slayer – and multiple neighbor eyewitnesses – say it was much closer. And a local judge relied on that testimony to dismiss charges against Merideth in recent weeks.

One witness said Boggs’ drone was flying below the trees.

In 2012 Congress tasked the FAA with writing rules for drones, and they are expected by June. However, there is little in them to address the Boggs-Merideth case, and there is not much in regards to property rights, either.

So for now homeowners will simply have to rely on state and local ordinances to govern their drone flights – and homeowners’ reactions to them. There are also “peeping Tom,” public nuisance, trespass and other existing laws that could be used, depending on the extent local police choose to respond.

Right now some 32 states have laws governing drone traffic, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But, as the Post notes, they vary widely.

For Merideth, the case was clear. He’d been dealing with drones over his property for months, even calling the police on a few occasions, but go no assistance.

After Boggs’ drone made several passes over his yard, he got fed up.

“In my mind it wouldn’t have been any different had he been standing in my backyard with a video camera,” he told the Post.

See also:

Natural News

Washington Post is part of the USA Features Media network of sites.


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