As drones surge in popularity across the United States, it should come as no surprise that legal cases involving drones are also starting to accumulate.
From invading people’s privacy like a Peeping Tom, to flying over prisons to drop cellphones, to recklessly crashing into the sides of buildings, drone operators don’t always follow the rules.
A report by the Center for the Study of the Drone has a new survey analyzing cases in recent years of when drones have had run-ins with the law. Looking at cases that have received some level of news coverage, the researchers found a few categories that legal incidents involving drones typically fall into.
Here are a few examples:
- Privacy: In October 2016, a man was charged with stalkingafter flying a drone over security officers at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests; that case is still ongoing. A police officer in Georgia in 2015 lost his job after being charged with eavesdropping after flying a drone over his neighbor’s property. A man was arrested in Ulster, NY, in 2014 for flying a drone too close to a hospital window. There are currently no federal drone privacy laws.
- Smuggling: Two men in Maryland were sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2016 for smuggling contraband into a maximum security prison. Last year, 16 people in Georgia were indicted on drug and firearm trafficking charges, including allegations that they used drones to drop cellphones into prisons that were then used to coordinate unlawful activity.
- Gunned down: In New Jersey in 2014, a man who shot down a drone because he thought it was flying over his property was charged with criminal activity. In 2015, a shooter in Kentucky had charges against him dismissed after gunning down a drone he claimed was trespassing on his property, but the drone owner later fired back with charges against the shooter for damages.
- Crashes: A drone owner in Seattle went to jail for 30 days after his aircraft collided with a building, fell and injured two people during the 2015 Pride Parade. A drone crashed into the Empire State Building in 2016, and the operator was charged with disorderly conduct. In January 2017, a man was charged with criminal trespassing after smashing his drone through a window on the 27th floor of an apartment building in Manhattan.
- Airplanes: A man was arrested last year for flying a drone too close to a police helicopter in North Carolina. In January of this year, a drone operator was arrested for obstructing a first-responder helicopter that was in the act of rescuing a personwho fell off a cliff in California.
One thing that comes up again and again in the legal cases involving drones: Law enforcement has difficulty finding operators piloting remote aircraft. Michael Huerta, the chief of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, said at an FAA symposium in March that the agency is creating a new rulemaking committee that will work to create a way to remotely identify and track drones in flight.
DJI, the world’s leading consumer drone manufacturer, proposed its own system in March for identifying the operator of a drone that would require each drone to transmit its location and registration or identification number. Then, with a receiver, law enforcement could ID the drone and link it to the owner’s registration information.
Almost 800,000 drone owners have registered with the FAA since sign-ups began in December 2015.