Good Question: Can you shoot down a spying drone?

October 03, 2017 06:20 AM

You see more and more of them in the skies above Rochester. Drones, many of them equipped with cameras.

Have you ever wondered what you can and can't do if someone is flying a drone over your house, without your permission? It's the subject of this week's Good Question with Pat Taney, who was asked something very interesting.

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"Can I shoot a drone?" asked Rochester resident Brian O'Neill. Not that he would.

"No. I would not, it was more of a joke," O'Neill said.

But his life lately is no joking matter. He says a drone has been flying over his Corn Hill home repeatedly.

"It's a privacy issue. We don't know if it has a camera on it and if it does what are they recording and why?" O'Neill said.

He asked what he can do legally to stop it. 

The answer: not much!

First, no, you cannot shoot down a drone due to federal and state laws. In fact, if you damage a drone, even if it is flying over your property without permission, it could get you in trouble for destroying private property!

Mitchell Apple, a drone expert with the company Birds Eye View in Rochester, says drone operators are governed by rules set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

No flights over a group of people, like sporting events; no flights within five miles of an airport without calling the airport for approval first. But what if a drone operator gets that approval?

Taney: They can legally fly over homes?

Apple: Technically, yes.

But Apple says he tells the operators he trains not to hover over homes and to stay no lower than 100 feet above a home. 

"If you're going lower than that over someone's house you should have a really solid reason and it should be very quickly, but there is no legislation regulating that whatsoever."

No laws at all. Meaning there is little homeowners and police can do. 

New York State Senator James Sanders Jr. (D- Queens) is one of a few lawmakers working to change that. He introduced a bill to make spying with drones illegal in NYS.

"It will ensure that you can't just send your drone over my house or your house," Sanders said.

Currently NYS law does prohibit surveillance or photography if it's being done for sexual purposes, without a person's consent.  But Sanders says drones are not included and wants a law on the books.

Right now, Sander's bill is in committee.

Taney: What do you think about the chances of this passing next legislative session?

Sanders: If people were to call their legislators the odds of this happening will be very good.

People like O'Neill support it. He is certainly not against the use of drones but wants some restrictions.

"Recreational use in a residential city neighborhood is an invasion of privacy and a quality of life issue because of the noise. It is not the proper time nor place to use them," O'Neill said.

If you do notice a drone over your home for a long period of time repeatedly, you can still call police. There are peeping tom laws on the books. It's not the easiest to prosecute because of a lack of drone laws but you might still have a case to press charges.

To read full text of the proposed drone bill, click here


Pat Taney

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