Thursday, July 30, 2015
Droning On Over Privacy
By now, I'm sure most people have heard the story of homeowner William H. Merideth, of Bullitt County, Kentucky. He recently shot down a drone which had been hovering over his backyard while his two daughters were outside sitting on their backyard deck. Some local homeowners have commented that they too have been targeted by the same drone as they went about their daily business in the---presumed---privacy of their own yards. The local police charged the 47 year old Mr. Merideth with first degree wanton endangerment and first degree criminal mischief (although the drone was over his backyard at the time of the downing), and he a preliminary fine has been accessed in the amount of $1800.00, which just so happens to equal the value of the drone.
The incident happened on July 28, after repeated visits of the unmanned remote craft, fitted with a camera, once again appeared over the property---specifically the backyard which is encompassed by a six foot privacy fence---where the Hillview resident's two daughters had been sitting on the back deck. Despite several attempts to locate the operator or operators failed, the homeowner decided it was time to take matters into his own hands. Apparently other neighbors had complained to local authorities but no one knew what to do or just what, if any, laws were actually being violated; the common perception that if you're outside (and thus in public) an individual could not be expected any degree to privacy though this is a visually secured backyard. Thus, when his daughters alerted their father of the unwelcome visitor, he walked outside with his 12 gauge shotgun and blew it out of the sky; the drone crashed in a nearby field. Shortly thereafter, four individuals, all male, approached the homeowner and demanded to know if he was the one who shot down their drone. Mr. Merideth acknowledged that he was. The four males then started to approach him in what he perceived to be a menacing manner and was advised in no uncertain terms that he would protect himself, his family, and his property. It was at this point that local law enforcement was notified.
So, what are your rights when it comes to drones and possible voyeurism? The US Constitution, under Articles 1, 4, 9, and the 14 are interpreted as granting a measure of personal privacy against government intrusion, have been upheld by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations General Assembly, specifically states, under Article 12, that every individual has the right against "...arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation". Some states also have more specific privacy laws, which fall under the label of tort laws (in this case, property torts). Nevertheless, various rulings by the courts have narrowed down those interpretations when it comes public exposure, such as celebrities or public figures and events. But what about property tort?
There was an old saying, based on a Latin phrase which basically said that one's ownership of property of land extended to the heavens and to the depths of hell. However, relatively recent court rulings nixed that definition. The Supreme Court decided in 1946 (United States vs. Causby) that you, as an individual, control only the amount of air space as you can occupy and that airspace was essentially free flowing and, therefore, public (at least at 500 feet and above). Meanwhile, the courts tended to agree that property owners owned the subsurface of their property down to a "reasonable" depth, which has usually been defined at around 100 feet. However, there are a number of laws by federal, state, and local jurisdictions wherein the government may actually retain certain ownership of the subsurface, especially when oil, gas, or certain minerals are involved, including the right of access. I suppose J Paul Getty was right when he said "The meek may inherit the earth but not necessarily the mineral rights".
While Mr. Merideth may have been charged with two first degree felonies, I don't see it sticking, but then again, given the low priority placed on privacy by the courts these days, I could easily be wrong. Regardless, I suspect he will be ordered to pay for drone. Nevertheless, there is a company called "NoFlyZone.org" (contact information below) which indicates it will register your property free of charge to prevent unsanctioned drone flyovers. You may want to check them out. Meanwhile, if you're charged with shooting down five or more drones, does anyone know if you get to be credited as an ace? I think I would look good wearing a "Blue Max"!
Do You Own the Space Above Your house?
What is the "Reasonable Expectation of Privacy"?
Feds: Privacy Does not Exist in 'Public Places'
When the Fourth Amendment Applies
NoFlyZone.org Offers Homeowners Privacy from Drones
Kentucky Man Faces Felony Charges After Shooting Down Drone