A Kentucky homeowner is arrested for shooting down a civilian drone he said was invading his family's privacy. The drone's owner insists that he did nothing wrong, in the latest case that highlights both confusion and concerns over the legal use of drones.
William Meredith, 47, of Bullitt County, Ky., was arrested after he used his shotgun to bring down a drone that he said hovered above his property in Hillview, a suburb of Louisville.
"Sunday afternoon, the kids — my girls — were out on the back deck, and the neighbors were out in their yard," Meredith tells local TV news station WDRB. "And they come in and said, 'Dad, there's a drone out here, flying over everybody's yard.'"
Meredith grabbed his shotgun and went out to watch the drone, which he says was hovering over a neighbor's property.
"Within a minute or so, here it came," he said. "It was hovering overtop of my property, and I shot it out of the sky."
Police were called to the scene; Meredith now faces felony charges of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief, with a court date set for September.
The drone's owner, David Boggs, says the drone wasn't hovering low over anyone's property, showing flight tracking data to local media that indicates an altitude of more than 250 feet. And he says he wasn't trying to invade anyone's privacy.
"No. 1, I was having fun with my friends and family," Boggs tells WDRB, adding that he was trying out the drone he had only recently bought. He said he was trying to film the house of a friend who lives in the area but was visiting Las Vegas.
"Now the drone is getting a bad name because the Drone slayer made a bad decision and went skeet shooting in a neighborhood," Boggs told local WHAS Channel 11.
The drone-downing comes months after Oklahoma lawmakers considered a bill that would allow homeowners to shoot down a drone that's flying over their property. A Colorado town even debated issuing hunting licenses for drones, before the Federal Aviation Administration stepped in.
The Kentucky case is similar to one from last September, when a New Jersey man was arrested on charges of using a weapon unlawfully and criminal mischief. The man allegedly used a shotgun to blast a drone that was flying over his house.
Such cases have provoked a wide range of responses — from those who want to protect the increased use of drones for personal and commercial use, and from those who are uncomfortable with HD camera-equipped aircraft buzzing around.
As Elie Mystal wrote for Above the Law about the New Jersey case last October:
"I don't think I've ever been on the side of a person who discharged a weapon in a non-lethal situation, but if your jackass neighbor is spying on your property with a remote controlled doohickey, shouldn't you be allowed to destroy it?"
The issue centers on imminent harm, robotics law expert Ryan Calo of the University of Washington tells tech site GigaOM. He says, "You would probably have to be threatened physically, or another person or maybe your property, for you to be able to destroy someone else's drone without fear of a counterclaim."
The situation can be compared to a trespass, GigaOM says: "In this sense, the law is the same as what applies when a car or a cow trespasses on your land — you can remove the car or cow (or whatever) and bill the owner for your trouble, but you can't simply destroy the invading article."
Another option for opponents of drones, of course, would be to deploy "jammers" that muddle drones' control signals. But that practice isn't legal — and the strategy doesn't address the main reason the FAA doesn't want people trying to shoot drones out of the sky in the first place: They're likely to come down in a very unpredictable, and possibly very dangerous, manner.
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