Shooting Down Drones
A Kentucky man shot down a drone that was hovering in his backyard:
“It was just right there,” he told Ars. “It was hovering, I would never have shot it if it was flying. When he came down with a video camera right over my back deck, that’s not going to work. I know they’re neat little vehicles, but one of those uses shouldn’t be flying into people’s yards and videotaping.”
Minutes later, a car full of four men that he didn’t recognize rolled up, “looking for a fight.”
“Are you the son of a bitch that shot my drone?” one said, according to Merideth.
His terse reply to the men, while wearing a 10mm Glock holstered on his hip: “If you cross that sidewalk onto my property, there’s going to be another shooting.”
He was arrested, but what’s the law?
In the view of drone lawyer Brendan Schulman and robotics law professor Ryan Calo, home owners can’t just start shooting when they see a drone over their house. The reason is because the law frowns on self-help when a person can just call the police instead. This means that Meredith may not have been defending his house, but instead engaging in criminal acts and property damage for which he could have to pay.
But a different and bolder argument, put forward by law professor Michael Froomkin, could provide Meredith some cover. In a paper, Froomkin argues that it’s reasonable to assume robotic intrusions are not harmless, and that people may have a right to “employ violent self-help.”
Froomkin’s paper is well worth reading:
Abstract: Robots can pose—or can appear to pose—a threat to life, property, and privacy. May a landowner legally shoot down a trespassing drone? Can she hold a trespassing autonomous car as security against damage done or further torts? Is the fear that a drone may be operated by a paparazzo or a peeping Tom sufficient grounds to disable or interfere with it? How hard may you shove if the office robot rolls over your foot? This paper addresses all those issues and one more: what rules and standards we could put into place to make the resolution of those questions easier and fairer to all concerned.
The default common-law legal rules governing each of these perceived threats are somewhat different, although reasonableness always plays an important role in defining legal rights and options. In certain cases—drone overflights, autonomous cars, national, state, and even local regulation—may trump the common law. Because it is in most cases obvious that humans can use force to protect themselves against actual physical attack, the paper concentrates on the more interesting cases of (1) robot (and especially drone) trespass and (2) responses to perceived threats other than physical attack by robots notably the risk that the robot (or drone) may be spying – perceptions which may not always be justified, but which sometimes may nonetheless be considered reasonable in law.
We argue that the scope of permissible self-help in defending one’s privacy should be quite broad. There is exigency in that resort to legally administered remedies would be impracticable; and worse, the harm caused by a drone that escapes with intrusive recordings can be substantial and hard to remedy after the fact. Further, it is common for new technology to be seen as risky and dangerous, and until proven otherwise drones are no exception. At least initially, violent self-help will seem, and often may be, reasonable even when the privacy threat is not great—or even extant. We therefore suggest measures to reduce uncertainties about robots, ranging from forbidding weaponized robots to requiring lights, and other markings that would announce a robot’s capabilities, and RFID chips and serial numbers that would uniquely identify the robot’s owner.
The paper concludes with a brief examination of what if anything our survey of a person’s right to defend against robots might tell us about the current state of robot rights against people.
Note that there are drones that shoot back.
EDITED TO ADD (8/9): How to shoot down a drone.