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Drones, Privacy and Safety: Tackling Today's Technological Concerns

In the age of drones, its no surprise one of the very first items people began to place on these systems were cameras. Great tools for inspection teams, realtors, movie makers, and enthusiastic photographers looking to capture spectacular images. However, when in the hands of those with less than honorable intentions, we suddenly are faced with a dilemma like we have never experienced.

As the aviation industry began to change rapidly, and local, state, and federal agencies were tasked with how to accommodate these systems, it became abundantly clear we were in for a new kind of challenge. Recently, the US made a landmark decision in the case against having hobbyists register their sUAS (small unmanned aerial systems) with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Many American’s were upset with this ruling as they believed a registry of sUAS would help alleviate some of the concerns about privacy with drones. With decisions like the ones in Taylor v. Huerta, we’re likely to see push back from all sides of the industry as time progresses, as laws change, and are redesigned to accommodate such extensive sUAS operations.

But for the time being, where does that leave us in terms of our own privacy, safety, and concerns? Let’s talk about each of these a little more specifically, starting with home owner privacy. Its been debated over an over again, do I own the space above my home? There’s not a simple way to answer this unfortunately, since the FAA has simply stated only they can regulate the operations of aircraft operating in the National Airspace. However, this hasn’t stopped states like Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana from adding additional measures to protect home owners. In July 2017, Indiana legislation passed through state legislatures which made it a misdemeanor to film someone in their home, or on their land with a drone, provided that they could not be seen without the use of the drone. It also made it a felony for any sex offender to film people with a drone.

Some states have made it a requirement for commercial users to receive a DOT certificate from their home state. Commercial users argue this makes it more difficult for 107 and 333 operators to work in their neighboring states. Hobbyists are still heavily under-regulated, and have to follow almost none of the rules set forth for commercial operators.

As far as safety goes, the last thing we want as a community is to see the disruption of aerial services, airline flights, and basic airport functions. Thankfully, there has bene the full integration of geo-fencing technology around most of our nation’s major airports, which require unlocking procedures by the manufacturer in the case that an operator has the needed permissions to fly near such airspace. The FAA has also taken a hard stance against hobbyists and commercial users who fly over wild fires, areas of search and rescue, and other restricted areas. Under 43 CFR 9212.1(f), it is illegal to interfere with any operation to extinguish a fire. When a drone flies over a wildfire, firefighters, emergency crews, and first responders come to a halt.

So, what’s the proper response when we encounter a drone over our house? Or over an area where emergency crews are operating? It seems the popular response these days are “shoot it down” or “throw a big rock at it”, but both of those options are extremely primitive, and potentially deadly. When a drone flies over your backyard, do you have the right to take it down yourself? This is a tough question to answer. According to the FAA, it is a federal crime to sabotage, or interfere with the safety of flight operations of an aircraft. Yes, this includes drones as well. The FAA in the past year has referred those ready to pump drones full of lead back to 18 U.S.C. 32, a law that in part expands “United States jurisdiction over aircraft sabotage to include destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.”

This means that even if a drone is over your home, or you believe is in a restricted area of operations such as a no fly zone, taking it down could lead to a hefty fine, and even prison time. During a recent brush fire near Sparks, California, an already extremely tense situation, nearly turned worse, when local officers decided to pull out their long guns, and take aim at a small drone flying over the area of firefighting operations. Taking down a drone without the use of bullets can be very dangerous in an of itself. Most consumer ready drones are equipped with lithium ion batteries which when punctured, shot, or ruptured, can have explosive, and fast burning results. When you add a gun to the mix, you risk shooting and potentially missing, now leaving that bullet to fly off into someone’s home, car, property, or other sensitive area.

Falling drones can cause injury, fire, or extensive damage. Put down the gun, the rock, or the big stick. Call the local police department, take a photo of the drone, and head back inside.

There’s a lot still to be done in the aviation industry as far as making every day life work with drones. Each year the number of drone pilots, both commercial and hobbyists, increase. With the application of drones on construction sites, search and rescue, aerial marketing, and more, its safe to say these systems are here to stay. How we handle them will no doubt change as time moves forward. For our friends out there who are thinking about maybe purchasing one of the “drone home defense” systems with high tech nets, electronic signals, or even the simple shotgun blast, we offer this advice: think twice, and be smart. Interference of authorized sUAS operations can drop a hefty 20 year prison sentence on an individual who unlawfully takes down a drone.

What are your suggestions for improving the relationship drones have with people? Lets hear your thoughts below in the comments!

As always, happy flying!


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