After a New Jersey man spotted his neighbor’s camera-equipped drone flying over his house this week, he fetched a shotgun and peppered the drone with holes, knocking it from the sky. Did he have a right to do so? Even though local police arrested the man on unlawful weapons charges, some people will feel he had the right to defend himself against an unlawful robot intrusion. More broadly, the episode highlights an emerging issue as more drones take to the skies: how to balance the rights of drone owners against people’s rights to privacy and self-defense. Home as a castle, from soil to the sky? Under common law traditions, the New Jersey man appeared well within his rights to shoot down the drone. As the famous 17th century jurist Edward Coke explained, “whoever owns the soil, it is theirs up to Heaven” and “the house of an Englishman is to him as his castle” — implying that property owners can use force against invaders. These days, of course, it’s not so cut and dry. The arrival of airplanes meant property rights no longer extend right to the sky, while the so-called “Castle doctrine” typically requires a home owner to fear injury before she can use force. This means you better think twice before blasting away at the Phantom 2 hovering above your lawn. “Generally speaking, tort law frowns on self-help and that includes drones,” says Ryan Calo, a robotics and cyber-law scholar at the University of Washington. “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.” More via Gigaom.
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