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Drone-Shooting is Now a Federal Crime, FAA Confirms (slate.com) 192

An anonymous reader writes: At least 12 different drones have been shot from the sky in the United States, including drone shootings in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Kentucky, and New Jersey. Now the FAA is confirming that drone shooting is a federal offense, citing regulations against aircraft sabotage. An aviation attorney (teaching drone law at New York's Vaughn College of Aeonautics) tells Forbes this means penalties of up to 20 years in prison for interfering with the "authorized" operation of an aircraft, while threatening a drone or a drone operator would also be a federal crime subject to five years in prison.
Slate notes that "This is bad news if you were planning to invest in the DroneDefender, a goofy-looking gun that promised to disrupt intrusive drones by bombarding them 'with radio waves that disrupt [their] remote control and GPS signals'." And Popular Science adds that "It also poses a complication for some local and state laws, like Utah's proposed HB 420, which would let police shoot down drones in emergency situations." Meanwhile, police in the Netherlands are actually training eagles to attack drones. And last week in South Africa, a drone crashed through the window of an office building and hit an unarmed office worker on the head.
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Drone-Shooting is Now a Federal Crime, FAA Confirms

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  • The FCC rules and regulations have long held it illegal to destroy hamateur radio equipment, so this doesn't surprise me.

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @08:36AM (#51921185)
    It will be interesting to see how courts rule on the intersection between state laws which were passed by the legislature and explicitly address the situation and FCC regulations which are an interpretation of laws which were written before the situation existed.

    Considering it took the FAA this long to come to this conclusion, I believe that judges should take a careful look at the logic they used in reaching their decision before agreeing with them. That being said, I would need to spend more time than I care to at this time to determine if the laws support the FAA or not.
    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @09:05AM (#51921357)
      Its certainly not settled. And if one looks for articles that try to provide all the information, rather than simply celebrate an interpretation, you can find stuff like this;

      To reach this justification, the FAA turned to 18 U.S.C. 32, a law that in part expands “United States jurisdiction over aircraft sabotage to include destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.” The FAA, as the part of government that oversees that sky, could have made an exception when applying this law to small, uncrewed aircraft. That it didn’t fits into a larger pattern: whenever the FAA is given the opportunity to treat drones as regular aircraft, it chooses to do so. That means pilot’s licenses for drone business operators, and it means that when the FAA bans aircraft for miles around the Super Bowl, that ban applies to drones too.

      It also poses a complication for some local and state laws, like Utah’s proposed HB 420, which would let police shoot down drones in emergency situations. While the FAA may have answered decided that drone shootdowns are already illegal under existing law, we’ll have to see how drone shootdown cases proceed in the courts to know if that assertion will hold.

      http://www.popsci.com/it-is-fe... [popsci.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        In addition, there is precedent that would prevent FAA asserting jurisdiction all the way to the ground. (United States v. Causby - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]) That case went all the way to SCOTUS and from the decision -

        'Thus, a landowner "owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land," and invasions of that airspace "are in the same category as invasions of the surface.' ***

        *** Many have interpreted this to mean that one owns the air 83 feet

        • They may be trespassing but, as far as I am aware, no state gives you permission to cause property damage to any trespasser on your property. So, this would make damaging any drone on your property a crime. And with current FCC rules, any interference with radio signals is a crime, period. It doesn't leave many options other than locating the drone operator and calling the police.

          • by geggam ( 777689 )

            Trespass in a Castle Doctrine state has caused death. Be interesting to see the castle defense used against drones.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

          • by Euler ( 31942 )

            Should be a no-brainer. It's only a matter of time before drone violence and/or property damage is a thing. So yes, it is more that just taking pictures of people through windows. If I suspect a drone may attempt to injure me or destroy my property, I have every right to destroy it assuming I do so within existing ordinances pertaining to discharge of weapons, etc. But keep in mind people do shoot at birds with firearms in areas where it is legal to do so and the FAA doesn't need to get involved.

            Maybe a

            • The laws in play change significantly if there's a weapon attached to the drone in some way as there is a reasonable expectation that the pilot intends you harm if it is flying low on your property. Now, if you claim there was a weapon but, none was found by the police after, a jury isn't likely to buy it.

              • by Euler ( 31942 )

                That is a good point, the anti-drone weapon needs a Go-pro/dash camera for liability purposes.

        • If you own your own drone, and fly it above your land every day up to 400 feet, you own the airspace to 400 feet and can protect it.

          Another interesting thought - if your drone crashes into another drone but it's over your land, why is the OTHER person flying the drone not technically at fault for interfering with an aircraft? It makes anti-drone drones all the more appealing as it magnifies the possible harm to someone flying a drone over your land.

          Dumb systems - made to be gamed since the dawn of time.

        • How about all those airliners and other aircraft including low-flying hot air balloons crisscrossing the skies every day, and have done so for at least a century? Are those not trespassing?

    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @09:11AM (#51921393)
      By this same interpretation, kite fighting might be a felony.
  • "and hit an unarmed office worker on the head."

    I wonder if he was "unharmed" after that...

  • On the plus side, the food and privileges are better at Camp Leavenworth.

    The wealthy feds run a better, more controlled, outfit than your average budget stricken State-funded penitentiary; although in the US they've pretty much done away with parole, [nolo.com] so there's no early out like in an overcrowded State system.

  • "Authorized" operation. Authorized.
    • "Authorized" operation. Authorized.

      Since the default condition is "authorized", and only the FAA or the military (secret service, whatever) has the authority to declare a deauthorized zone, that's not much of a loophole. It may mean that you could shoot my drone down if I flew it near my house, since I'm in a controlled airspace (airport zone) but it wouldn't mean you could shoot it down in public, or over someone else's house and looking into your yard.

  • by mi ( 197448 ) <slashdot-2016q1@virtual-estates.net> on Saturday April 16, 2016 @09:05AM (#51921349) Homepage Journal

    Now the FAA is confirming that drone shooting is a federal offense, citing regulations against aircraft sabotage.

    Ah, so they are confirming, that it always has been a crime.

    The title: "Drone-Shooting is Now a Federal Crime," — could've lead someone to believe, a part of the Executive-branch has written a law. Not that they haven't been doing so de facto before, but dropping the pretense and doing it de jure would've been a new low...

    • by Euler ( 31942 )

      Breaking news: Headline written by editor who only skimmed article and wanted to generate the most clicks possible. Some say this could be a case of click-bait, we let you decide, details at 11. ;)

  • Meanwhile, police in the Netherlands are actually training eagles to attack drones. And last week in South Africa, a drone crashed through the window of an office building and hit an unarmed office worker on the head.

    I suppose FAA has no authority in Netherlands, nor in South Africa. So, how relevant is this to the subject?

  • by cirby ( 2599 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @09:15AM (#51921415)

    "Sorry, officer, but I was just legally flying a kite over my own property, and the drone just smashed right into it."

    You could possibly have a decent defense by referring to sailing versus powered ships...

  • Betcha this is one of those laws that everybody is going to just ignore, like jaywalking or littering. Besides I don't see how it is practically evforceable.

  • by Entrope ( 68843 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @09:30AM (#51921481) Homepage

    Under 49 USC section 56501, the "special aircraft jurisdiction" of the United States only includes certain "aircraft in flight", and "aircraft in flight" is defined to mean "an aircraft from the moment all external doors are closed following boarding". If there is no boarding of the aircraft, the external doors can't be closed following such boarding, and the aircraft is never legally in flight.

    While the particular statute the FAA relies on -- 18 USC section 32 -- also includes "any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce" (in addition to aircraft in the "special aircraft jurisdiction" of the US), the rule of lenity would make it hard to convict someone criminally unless the drone was currently being used in such non-intra-state commerce.

  • And last week in South Africa, a drone crashed through the window of an office building and hit an unarmed office worker on the head.

    Are office workers in South Africa armed by default?

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      No, but USA ones are and they might be confused as to why the office worker didn't just shoot it unless they mentioned that.
  • by ryen ( 684684 )

    "It also poses a complication for some local and state laws, like Utah's proposed HB 420, which would let police shoot down drones in emergency situations

    Why would this be complicated? Police shoot down humans and get away with it all the time

  • He could have swatted the drone away from his head.
  • by Lothsahn ( 221388 ) <Lothsahn@@@SPAM_ ... u_bastardsyahocm> on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:07AM (#51921975)
    1) Why is interfering with drone operation below the altitude that manned air travel exists, within state boundaries, even within the purview of the federal government? This is clearly a states issue. The FAA already defined a 400 ft ceiling for drone usage and no-fly zones to prevent interference with manned air travel.

    2) Why cannot individuals defend their privacy on their own property? If gun operation is allowed on their property normally, why is firing their gun at an intruder any more "reckless" than clay target practice?

    3) Why are we talking about a 5 or 20 year JAIL sentence? Do they realize how much damage incarcerating people does to society and individual's lives? A felony and 5 year jail sentence can wreck entire lives. How is this appropriate for disrupting drone operation, especially over one's own property?

    4) Why is someone shooting a drone on their property different than shooting an unoccupied vehicle trespassing on their property? These cases should be simply prosecuted under existing "destruction of property" statutes, which should not be felonies, and should not have multiple-year jail sentences.

    Note: I fly RC aircraft.
    • Ugh. Proofreading fail.

      "why is firing their gun at an intruder" should be "why is firing their gun at an intruding drone"
    • 2) Why cannot individuals defend their privacy on their own property? If gun operation is allowed on their property normally, why is firing their gun at an intruder any more "reckless" than clay target practice?

      You don't own the airspace above your property, nor is it always easy to tell if something in the sky is over your property or not, not to mention the obvious danger in shooting a gun into the air.

      Now there obviously has to be some more/better defined restrictions on what drones can do, but having people shooting drones out of the sky isn't a solution.

      3) Why are we talking about a 5 or 20 year JAIL sentence? Do they realize how much damage incarcerating people does to society and individual's lives? A felony and 5 year jail sentence can wreck entire lives. How is this appropriate for disrupting drone operation, especially over one's own property?

      The 5 and 20 is the maximum, it would probably only ever be used if there were some major aggravating circumstances.

      Second the FAA isn't passing new drone spe

      • by Euler ( 31942 )

        2) Why cannot individuals defend their privacy on their own property? If gun operation is allowed on their property normally, why is firing their gun at an intruder any more "reckless" than clay target practice?

        You don't own the airspace above your property, nor is it always easy to tell if something in the sky is over your property or not, not to mention the obvious danger in shooting a gun into the air.

        Now there obviously has to be some more/better defined restrictions on what drones can do, but having people shooting drones out of the sky isn't a solution.

        I think the point was that you can legally fire a gun into the air in certain places if the local town ordinance allows, obviously not in populated areas. In rural areas it is very common to just step outside your back door and have some clay target practice, or even taking down some actual birds.

        Also, the definition of 'airspace' is the key. What myself and many others are arguing is that 'airspace' is not below tree-top level. Certainly not a few feet off the ground where you would probably be to look

    • Why is this under the federal jurisdiction? Interstate commerce. No, seriously. It all started with the "Air Commerce Act" of 1926. But really, anything the feds really want to regulate, they can by citing interstate commerce.
      • by Euler ( 31942 )

        Correct. Look at how most bills are written at the Federal level by US congress. Usually the first few paragraphs will refer to this, even if it is asinine. There are a few other specifically enumerated powers that congress can act under. Budget, etc. But this is the big one for most new things.

    • 3) Why are we talking about a 5 or 20 year JAIL sentence? Do they realize how much damage incarcerating people does to society and individual's lives? A felony and 5 year jail sentence can wreck entire lives. How is this appropriate for disrupting drone operation, especially over one's own property

      As this is the US you shouldn't be surprised about excessive penalties, that is the norm.

    • by Cederic ( 9623 )

      Why are we talking about a 5 or 20 year JAIL sentence?

      Because the law covers forcing a passenger jet with 300 people on board to crash land, as well as idiots shooting at a $50 drone.

  • by leftover ( 210560 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @11:45AM (#51922193) Homepage

    This is yet another example of a Federal agency going off half-cocked in an effort to extend itself rather than to make any improvement for We the People.

    "Drones" are a hot topic so the smell of budget allocations is in the cesspool. If drones are not 'aircraft' then the FAA has no excuse to meddle with them. So, drones must be aircraft. FCC is already in the hunt because radio. Wonder which agency will be next to stake a claim: BATF, maybe?

    This issue is analogous to the morons shining laser pointers at pilots. Legislation doesn't stop them any more than laws stop criminals from committing crimes. None of this is about making improvements, it is just about agencies growing and getting more money.

  • They should make it illegal to fly a drone over someone's property, less than 1,000 ft, without their permission.

    • If they were regulated like manned aircraft they would likely fall under the helicopter regulations which basically state that there isn't an arbitrary minimum, rather that they must be operated without undue hazard to persons or property.
  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @12:29PM (#51922479) Journal
    Okay, FAA, if you're going to treat drones, legally-speaking, the same way you do all other aircraft? Then there has to be an even-handed approach to regulating them. They'll have to have a unique identification/registration number on them, so that assholes who are using them to spy on people and otherwise invade their privacy can be tracked down and prosecuted. There has to be strict rules about when and where you can fly them, with stiff penalties for drone operators that violate them. For any drone that is more than literally a child's toy (that can't fly more than a few tens of feet away from the remote control) there needs to be a requirement of being legally an adult, there needs to be a requirement for extensive education and training in the piloting and use of the drone, including testing to ensure drone operators are competent and responsible, and there needs to be a requirement for insurance against property damage and bodily harm potentially caused by a drone. If the drone in question is above a certain size, then it needs to contain a transponder, like all full-size aircraft, so that it shows up on traffic control radar, and possibly there needs to be an override available for use by air traffic control so they can remove drones from their airspace in case of irresponsible operation of a drone, or in case of emergencies.

    Now I brace for all the drone-yahoos who are going to scream and cry and stamp their feet, insult me, send me death threats, moderate me down as a troll, etcetera etcetera etcetera, and my response to all that is the same as it's always been: If 100% of you people with your drone-toys had been responsible and reasonable with them 100% of the time all the way back since the first ones were available, then none of this government involvement would have happened in the first place, and I wouldn't be posting my opinions of how you and your drone-toys should be handled, officially-speaking. Tough shit for you, suck it up, and if you want to beat on someone for your little drone-toy hobby being 'ruined', then go find one of the assholes who did stupid shit with them and brought all this down on your shoulders; I don't have a drone, don't want a drone, don't even want them around to start with, and don't give a fuck if your little hobby is ruined or not, STFU.
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday April 16, 2016 @01:09PM (#51922797)

    Now rather than killing a drone, it makes more sense to kill the drone operator as you'll get a lighter sentence.

    Also, murder is not a federal crime except for a few specific cases which this does not fall under. So all around, it's a win-win!

    Not to mention if you bring down drone the operator can report you, but if you bring down the operator you are more likely to get away with it.

    Not that if you do go after a drone operator, make sure you kill them after they bring the drone back in or otherwise you could technically be charged with disrupting the "pilot" of an aircraft in flight. Plus, free drone!

    Thanks to the FCC for bringing about rules that make more sense to end human life than mechanical... bang-up job there.

  • All states and jurisdictions also support trespassing laws. How do they play into this discussion? Is contact with the ground required? I don't think so. The FAA is asking too much in requiring my faith that any drone over my property is there for some legal and beneficial reason. Citizens must be given some recourse to challenge the legitimacy of any drone. Legal experts care to comment?

  • Because the easiest way to destroy a big expensive drone is with a small cheap one, and who is going to be able to prove is was not an accident? On the right day you could even take one out with a child's kite.
  • "And last week in South Africa, a drone crashed through the window of an office building and hit an unarmed office worker on the head."

    Are South African office workers armed frequently enough to require a distinction?
  • a drone crashed through the window of an office building and hit an unarmed office worker on the head.

    Does any regularly interact with "armed office workers", because that could make deciding which project gets done more interesting.

A motion to adjourn is always in order.

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