In your own home and on your own property, you have reason to expect ownership over personal privacy and general property. With the growing drone industry ($14 billion-worth to $43 billion by 2024), both commercial and recreational drones will become a common sight. As this is a fairly new industry, regulations are still playing catch-up with the different issues this poses.
The way you might feel like smashing the camera of someone pointing it at your property without your permission, you might also be sorely tempted to shoot down a drone hovering over your property. The question is, is it legal?
Is it Legal to Shoot Down a Drone Over Your Own Property?
TL;DR: No, it is not legal to shoot down a drone over your own property. (This is also dependent on city and state laws about privacy, but generally it’s not legal.) Now, let’s go into the specifics.
Do you own the airspace above your property?
No, you do not own the airspace above your property, except the airspace that your property (including trees, buildings, etc.) already occupies. In Boggs v. Merideth (2017), William Merideth claimed that the drone he shot down was flying in federal airspace. This would make it a matter for federal court (so he claimed), because the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) regulates all airspace.
However, William Merideth lost his suit, because it was not a question of whose airspace it is. Rather, it is a mix of property, aircraft, and firearm laws.
Do drones fall under the definition of “aircraft”?
Yes, drones fall under the definition of aircraft according to the FAA. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) cannot therefore be shot down or damaged in any way, at least insofar as the federal law is concerned. So if you discharge your firearm with the intent to hit a drone, you’re technically breaking the law, even if it’s over your own property.
Does the drone’s presence over your property allow you to damage it?
No, the drone’s presence over your property does not give you any kind of legal advantage if you were to damage it. Unless it poses an actual threat or creates actual damage to you or your property, you won’t be able to defend shooting it down. The drone owner has the legal advantage because it’s destruction of their private property.
So What Can You Do When A Drone Is in Your Airspace?
First, you need to prove that the drone in your property was there with malicious intent. To do this, you might want to find the drone operator and have a simple conversation with them about why you would be more comfortable if the drone does not fly over your property. This is the simplest solution.
Second, if you do want to keep the drone legally off your property, check if your state or city has specific laws and ordinances that limit the permissions of a UAS. In some cases, municipalities can limit the areas that a drone is allowed to fly (personal property only, public property only, etc.). This will help you make a case.
Lastly, if you can discover proof that the drone was using a camera to film or photograph you, especially where you have an expectation of privacy (like inside your house), you can bring it to court as a violation of privacy.
The only thing you really can’t do is shoot that drone down.