Russell Percenti, 34, shot down a drone he spotted flying near to his property in September of 2014. The drone’s owner said that he was taking aerial pictures of a friend’s home undergoing construction. He heard gunshots and suddenly lost control of his drone; the operator contacted police after retrieving his damaged drone.
In this case, police charged Percenti with criminal mischief and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes after he admitted to shooting down the drone. Percenti says he was just protecting his family’s privacy. The charges could carry a sentence of more than 5 years; but Cape May County prosecutors have said that they will recommend probation at the April 29 sentencing.
The case highlights the lack of clarity over drone laws. As far as laws published by the FAA stand, any hobby drone may be flown over private property as long as the operator follows the published guidelines referring to avoiding airports, crowds, and emergencies. But the question of who owns the airspace over private property is still contested; the FAA claims jurisdiction from the soil to infinity, but many property owners might disagree.
The point may be decided in a different court, as the Kentucky Drone Slayer case is debated; in KY, a man who shot down a drone flying over his property was exonerated by a local judge, and the drone operator is contesting the decision.
Privacy laws with relation to drones are a hot topic in state and local legislatures, as many of them attempt to pass drone privacy laws in advance of federal legislation. Virginia recently defeated a drone privacy bill; NH has one under consideration. On February 16.2015, the President issued a presidential memorandum giving the FAA one year to implement the suggested drone privacy laws; but so far, the FAA has not announced any changes.
The recent 2016 FAA Reauthorization Act (the AIRR Act) again mentions the subject of drone privacy, calling for the FAA to examine the issue and act on it. But in the meantime, the issue of who owns the air seems to be decided one neighborhood at a time.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.