Planet Earth in 2016 is a strange place to live, my friends.
A couple weeks ago White Rock area resident Kalee Blythe posted an intriguing question on the social media site Nextdoor. On multiple occasions, late at night, Blythe claims someone has flown a drone over her house and backyard, making her “feel unsafe,” she says. (On a separate occasion a Lake Highlands couple posted that a drone flew over their yard as they were relaxing in their hot tub.)
On the one side, aerial drones are very cool. Who doesn’t love a bird’s eye view of Dallas like this beautiful video by DJD Productions? Or how about this breathtaking view of the Dallas cityscape peeking through the clouds?
On the other side, it’s easy to imagine how drones could be used for nefarious purposes, such as stalking people or even staking out houses to burglarize.
Blythe’s question is this: Can she legally “take it down”? (AKA can she shoot or throw something to damage or capture the drone when it flies over her yard?)
It’s a question we didn’t have to ask a couple years ago, and unfortunately there isn’t a concise answer.
For starters, shooting a firearm within city limits is illegal, according to Dallas police deputy chief Andrew Acord, commander of the northeast division. However, it is legal to shoot a pellet gun within city limits, “as long as you don’t damage someone else’s property,” Acord says—and that’s the kicker. (Anything other than a pellet or bb gun is considered a deadly weapon, he says.)
Another factor that plays into the debate: Everyone has the right to photograph in public places (well, kind of). In the past, paparazzi could even photograph celebrities sunbathing in their own backyards, so long as the photographer was standing on public property. A couple years ago, paparazzi began using drones to photograph celebrities in their backyards, but in October of 2015 California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to prevent that scenario from happening.
Sure, the White Rock area isn’t populated by the kind of celebrities who slurp up property in the Golden State, but we do have a similar problem — that being drones flying over our backyards and potentially photographing the people or things therein.
The Dallas Police Department pointed us to this government code that details who can legally use drones and how. According to section 023.003: “A person commits an offense if the person uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in this state with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.”
That’s all well and good, but how do officials enforce that the people using drones are only using them in the way they’re legally permitted? The whole point of unmanned aircrafts is that they’re unmanned, which makes it pretty tricky to track down someone who’s hovering a drone over your backyard at midnight.
Blythe points out that if the drone that frequents her neighborhood is registered with the FAA, as it should be, she puts herself “in a legal gray area.”
She says the replies to her Nextdoor post left her “feeling that I would need to ensure that if I brought it down, that I would need to do so in a ‘safe’ manner,” she says, “and that when it came down, it would need to absolutely be on my property.”