What to Do If Your Neighbor Has a Drone

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Imagine having a nosy neighbor. Someone who keeps a sharp eye on everything that goes on in your house, and then discusses it at length with other people in the neighborhood. Such a neighbor can make you feel insecure in your own home, as though you have a spotlight shining on your every move.

Now imagine if that neighbour has the ability to fly over every part of your house, has a bird’s eye view of every inch of your personal property, and can even record your daily movements. This is exactly what happens when you have a nosy neighbour who owns a drone.

It is usually expected that drone pilots have enough decency not to use their winged, mechanical minions to spy on their neighbors. But the truth is many drone enthusiasts will happily ignore this common courtesy and turn their recreational drones into spy drones.

Laying Down the Law

So what can be done to avoid invasive drones? This is actually a question that has stirred up quite a lot of debate ever since consumer drones first came into the picture. In America, the FAA is responsible for creating laws relating to use of drones.

Last year, they released an amendment to the original drone laws which focussed more closely on providing guidelines for use of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a.k.a recreational drones. The main points specified in the rules are:

  1. The drones can only be flown during daytime or civil twilight. In the latter case the drone needs to display anti-collision lighting.
  2. They should not be flown more than 400 feet above ground level. Flying a drone from within a structure requires that the drone not go beyond 400 feet of said structure.
  3. The drone should not be operated from a moving aircraft, and can only be operated from a moving vehicle over sparsely inhabited areas.
  4. Weather visibility needs to be 3 miles from the control station.
  5. Glass G airspace can be used without ATC permission.
  6. The UAV needs to remain in Visual Line of Sight while in flight.

Reasonable Cause for Filing a Complaint

While the above-mentioned rules are reasonably clear, they don’t go into any specifics about flying the drone over private property. Thus, the rules about flying drones over personal residences remain murky. However, there are some legitimate reasons you can put forth while lodging a complaint about a neighbour’s drone:

  1. If the drone can be proven to cause a nuisance in your home. This includes the drone spying on your activities or recording footage of your house.
  2. If the drone is being flown recklessly, in a manner that appears dangerous to the safety of your family.
  3. If the drone uses your property to take off or land after a flight run.
  4. If the drone can be proven to be in violation of state privacy laws. Different cities have different laws regarding the operation of drones within the city limits. Reading up on the specific rules laid out by your city council can help you fight invasive drones.

The Need for Framing Better Laws

The FAA has done a lot to lay out clear rules relating to the use of commercial drones, or drones used in public areas. But a lot more needs to be done to develop a framework for the operation of drones over private homes.

While many look to the FAA to shoulder the responsibility, the truth is the FAA is a national organization with limited resources. It’s not possible for them to individually track and punish every owner of a toy drone that oversteps its bounds.

That is why the FAA relies on local law enforcement agencies to help control the menace of private drones being used for sinister purposes. The Agency’s Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS operations is a partnership between the FAA and LEAs (Local Enforcement Agencies) to address the privacy concerns raised by proliferation of recreational drones.

The main question that needs to be answered definitively before crafting neighbourhood laws for drone use is what exactly constitutes illegal use of a drone? How high does a drone have to go before it is deemed to be within spying range of other houses?

Does being able to view someone else’s garden through the drone constitute privacy invasion? But then why not apply the same law to a regular person who can walk past a neighbour’s garden and view whatever is going on inside? What should the penalty for illegal use of drones be? A Fine? Jailtime? Confiscating the drone? Banning all drones from the area?

What You Need To Do

All such questions will need to be answered before we finally arrive at a set of drone laws that are acceptable to the majority of the people involved in the debate. But until those laws are put in place, here’s what you can do to address the problem of nosy drones:

1. Establish Communication

The worst thing you can do in such a situation is to overreact. Different people have different views of privacy, and your neighbor may not be aware he is doing something you consider invasive by flying his drone over your house. Talk to your neighbor and make it clear to him that you consider his actions to be an invasion of your personal space.

2. Prepare Your Case

If talking to your neighbour does not bear results, you will have to seek the help of the police. There are three main reasons you may present to the law for objecting to your neighbour’s drone.

You can invoke the cause of action for private nuisance against the noise the drone makes while in flight, and how it disrupts the peace around your house. The cause of action for trespass relates to the illegal trespassing over your property by the drone when it flies close to your house or lands/takes-off on your property. Finally, the cause of action for invasion of privacy should be invoked if you feel the drone is being used to record footage of your home.

Also, if the drone has caused damage to your house through its movements, you can file a case against your neighbor for destruction of personal property.

3. Gather Evidence

Take pictures of the drone flying over house. Record a video of the machine using its camera to spy on your house. Keep any of your personal property that has been damaged by the drone as proof of an attack on your home.

Once you have gathered the necessary evidence, you can go to your local authorities and take their help in dealing with your neighbor’s drone.