As we await the enactment of the small UAS rule (probably in mid – 2016), we continue to read and hear about state legislatures either enacting or studying new laws affecting drones, particularly in the area of trespass/privacy. Many of these initiatives are being driven by civil liberty groups or proponents which are, to varying degrees, raising concerns about our privacy being invaded by drones hovering outside our windows.
Others who contribute to the noise level on this issue are some lawyers who have picked up the torch of privacy and proclaimed that this is something legislators and the general public had better be concerned about because our worst nightmares are about to become true, with the skies becoming black with drones peering over our shoulders and examining every aspect of our daily lives.
Balderdash! Baloney! The simple fact is we don’t need new laws on privacy or trespass. The law in both areas is already well developed at both the state and federal levels. Moreover, we don’t even need new criminal laws. Sure, instances will present themselves where change or addition to existing laws will be desirable. For example, adding the word “drones” to an existing peeping Tom law may make sense. But whole new privacy or trespass laws are not necessary. Existing laws in both areas are almost always going to be sufficient to sue or prosecute the drone operator who invades someone’s privacy or trespasses on their property.
So, why then are there advocates of new laws? For the champions of privacy and property rights, it’s because it’s what they do. For the lawyers, it’s because they’re trying to get a “piece of the action,” i.e., clients and billable hours. In the case of state legislators, it’s probably because they don’t know any better. The “hysteria” by some associated with the growing use of drones, has triggered a reflex reaction in them to “legislate.” After all, it’s what they’ve been elected to do! Instead of stepping back and figuring out whether their state needs any new laws or whether they just have to tweak the ones they have, they’re jumping into a perceived vacuum and legislating.
The drone/UAS industry is here to stay. It will continue to grow and, along with it, the FAA regulatory environment is racing to keep pace with the commercial demand for UAS. The whole privacy/trespass issue is a red herring . . . a straw man being set up by individuals, including lawyers, to further their own agendas. They should put their own agendas aside, do us all a favor, and acknowledge the fact that we simply don’t need any new laws on privacy or trespass focused solely on drones.
(Originally posted December 17, 2015)