Question: My neighbor’s kid has a drone. He usually takes the thing over to the park to play around with it. But recently, he has been flying the thing around his home. Of course, the drone takes off from his backyard and immediately goes above the fence line where it is clearly visible by me and other neighbors. It is quite annoying and intrusive, and I wish he would stop. I mentioned the issue to my neighbor, who didn’t really take the hint. Instead, his response was that his kid stays within his own property line and that he can do what he wants on his own property. I haven’t seen him actually cross into my yard, but the thing is clearly visible and, from what I understand, these things have high definition cameras that can see from quite a distance. Is there something I can do to stop this?
Cameras are everywhere now, and it feels like everything you do is capable of being seen. There are stories of home televisions being hacked and used as spying devices. According to Kellyanne Conway, your microwave oven may be snapping a portrait of you right now. Drones with cameras have only made the question of privacy in the digital age more complicated, and unfortunately, our laws have not kept pace with the technology.
Answer: Although certain laws have been enacted to prevent drone interference with airports and first responders, most federal, state, and even local laws are not clearly established in this area. Federal law was given a shock this past week when a federal appeals court struck down a federal agency’s ability to regulate private non-commercial drones. In response, the Trump Administration is seeking to allow the federal government the authority to track, hack, and destroy any drone in the sky.
The California legislature passed six laws last year to control drones, but Governor Brown vetoed four of them. Although he signed into law two bills that address the use of drones that interfere with first responders in emergency operations, he vetoed other bills saying that he favored a more comprehensive approach as opposed to a patchwork of laws that may lead to regulatory confusion.
Locally, the University requires the registration of any “unmanned aircraft system” over university property. The City of Davis, however, has restrictions that prohibit flying “model crafts” in park facilities, but it is unclear whether this term would include drones.
For your particular situation, your best remedy may be found in our state’s invasion of privacy law. Your legal claim would be that the neighbor’s drone is being used to capture images of you in private or personal activity. Particular amendments to the invasion of privacy law were created in response to paparazzi trying to catch prime shots of Hollywood stars via drones. But the law applies equally to us common folk.
Although liability for invasion of privacy typically involves a trespass, i.e. crossing a property line, the statute can render a person liable of a “constructive” invasion of privacy if the captured images or video could only be done with use of the drone. In other words, the drone does not have to cross into your property. The law allows a private civil lawsuit in court for such an invasion of privacy and even allows triple damages to a successful plaintiff.
In your lawsuit, the question will center on the images that the neighbor’s drone is getting. If he gets those images by crossing onto your property, he is clearly liable. If the drone stays within his property boundary, then the question will be whether those images could be secured without the use of the drone.
You should not have to put up with your neighbor’s son prying into your personal space. The threat of a lawsuit may be enough to put a stop to this hobby that invades your privacy. If not, perhaps you can convince the Trump Administration to track, hack, and destroy it.
Preston Morgan is a partner at Kopper, Morgan & Dietrich, a Davis law firm providing family law, estate planning and trust litigation representation. His column is published every other week in the Davis Enterprise. To pose a question to Preston Morgan, contact him at https://kopperlaw.com.
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