Lawsuit Over Shot-Down Drone To Legally Address ‘Right To Privacy’ Concerns? May Challenge Federal Government’s Exclusive Ownership Over The Skies

A lawsuit filed over a shot-drone could legally address rising concerns about homeowners’ privacy. The litigation may also challenge the virtual monopoly of the federal government over America’s skies.

A lawsuit was filed against a man who shot down a drone over his Hillview home last summer. It seeks to settle the expectations about homeowners’ “Right to Privacy.” With an increasing number of drones hovering relatively close to the ground and uncomfortably close to private properties and homes, the lawsuit over the shot-down drone could open the Pandora’s Box concerning the federal government’s exclusive sovereignty over the skies, reported USA Today.

The Kentucky man, whose drone was shot down by his neighbor last year, has now filed a federal lawsuit. An earlier lawsuit was dismissed by a local judge. The lawsuit was filed against William Merideth, who calls himself the “Drone Slayer.” In October 2015, the judge dismissed charges levied against him for firing a gun within city limits, reported the Messenger-Inquirer. The newly-filed lawsuit now asks the court to make a legal determination as to whether his drone’s July 2015 flight constituted trespass.

Lawsuit Over Shot-Down Drone To Legally Address 'Right To Privacy' Concerns

In this lawsuit, the plaintiff, David Boggs, also wants the court to rule that he is entitled to damages. But what’s truly interesting is the approach Boggs’ lawyer, James Mackler, has taken.

In the civil complaint, Mackler categorically mentioned, “The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty over airspace of the United States pursuant to 49 U.S.C.A. § 40103. The airspace, therefore, is not subject to private ownership nor can the flight of an aircraft within the navigable airspace of the United States constitute a trespass.”

The Federal Aviation Administration made it absolutely clear that it has the sole authority over the national airspace.

Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman, said in a statement last year, “The FAA is responsible for the safety and management of US airspace from the ground up.”

However, the law differs slightly in Kentucky. The local law grants permission to landowners to use force that’s necessary to prevent trespassing. The issue hasn’t been dealt with since the famous case filed in 1946. Back then, the Supreme Court ruled that a North Carolina farmer could legally assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air. Incidentally, the farmer was forced to file the lawsuit because of military aircraft, which were flying too low to his fields, were disturbing his cows and chickens and disrupting peace around the pastures.

Needless to say, this was long before the advent of drones. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly used for everything from aerial surveys to search and rescue operations and from wildlife tracking to catching cheaters during an exam. There are hundreds of models of UAVs openly sold in markets in America, and their user base is exploding, from amateur photographers to hobbyists who are merely interested in aerial acrobatics of these miniature flying machines.

With a wingspan ranging anywhere between six inches and 246 feet, a large variety of drones has started invading the skies. They are now posing a threat to commercial aircraft. But what’s equally concerning is their ability to peer into the homes while hovering just a few feet off the ground. The fact that these drones are equipped with high-resolution imagery only makes matters worse.

Lawsuit Over Shot-Down Drone To Legally Address 'Right To Privacy' Concerns

Merideth had shot down a DJI Phantom 3, an advanced version, used by professionals. With a price tag of $1,500, the drone isn’t meant for amateurs. Capable of reaching altitudes of a few hundred feet, the drone was brought down by the “Drone Slayer” because it was allegedly being used to snoop on his daughters. The plaintiff, however, has proof that his drone never ventured very close to the accused’s house.

Privacy advocates have long maintained that misusing a drone to spy on a neighbor is no different than climbing a ladder to look into their upstairs window. This lawsuit over the shot-down drone could enact laws that clearly spell out the limits and boundaries for the UAVs.

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