Are There Laws On Drones?

TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, New York, June 4

BY: Andrew Wroblewski

It’s a bird, it’s a plane – no, it’s a drone.

During a Northport Village board meeting in early May, drones were one of several topics that landed as a talking point.

“We were down at the construction site the other day,” Trustee Damon McMullen said. “This drone kept coming up behind us… [We] heard this buzz going around. It was very annoying.”

That begged the question, McMullen added: “Are there any laws controlling drones?”

Simply put, as Trustee Henry Tobin later said: No, there are not currently any laws in New York that regulate drones and the potential privacy risks, some say, they bring about.

In a nutshell, drones – or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – are publically available for purchase and offer the consumer a way to get a bird’s eye view while keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground. They’re expensive – upwards of $1,000 – but UAS are increasingly becoming more attainable and, with that, an added interest in privacy has come about.

Is it illegal for a drone to observe you from the sky?

According to a March 30, 2015 report written by Richard Thompson, a legislative attorney at Congressional Research Service, no, it is not.

“Congress has enacted no law explicitly regulating the potential privacy impacts of drone flights,” Thompson writes. “The courts have had no occasion to rule on the constitutionality of drone surveillance, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) did not include privacy provisions in its proposed rule on small UAS.”

On Feb. 15, the FAA proposed a framework of regulations that provide safety rules for small UAS conducting non-recreational operations, but as Thompson said, they do not include privacy provisions. Therefore the issue hasn’t gone away.

Just as McMullen and the Northport Village board asked, questions around Long Island, around New York and around the country continue to be raised.

Bills in New York have been proposed. New York State Assemblyman Gary Finch, on June 18, 2013, proposed a bill that would regulate the viewing, broadcasting or recording of another person by means of “aerial imaging technology” when the person is in a place where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Yet no substantial action has been taken in bringing the bill forward.

Regardless, there is one question that can be answered:

“Is it your right to knock [a drone] out of the sky?” Northport Village Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin asked.

Just as it’s illegal to defend one’s home from passing airplanes, New York castle doctrine law does not permit home owners to destroy drones observing from the airspace above their property. The issue is a gray one, however, as some have argued that if an apparent physical threat is being made then using force may be acceptable.

Originally published: Long Islander News: The Record
(Thursday, June 4, 2015;  A15)

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