Drone spying on you? Find out your legal options

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In the right hands, recreational drones can capture the world in beautiful ways we’ve never seen before. With a couple hundred bucks, anyone can be a drone pilot. Yes, anyone.

Sadly, some pilots choose to fly where and when they want – even if that means violating your privacy.

What can you do if you’re minding your own business and spot a drone hovering over your property, watching you? What are your options? Can you shoot at it?  Can you swing at it? What do you do?

Online videos show different ways drones have knocked from the sky. One hockey fan used a shirt to knock a drone while another fan smashed it with a skateboard. A fire department used a hose to spray at a drone peering in as they put out a house fire. A hawk even flew at a drone and attacked it with its claws.

But Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says the best approach is to not take the law into your own hands. “If you are concerned about it, call us,” McKinnon says.

But don’t expect the peeping pilot to go to jail or even be found for that matter. “We’ll document it and forward that to the FAA,” McKinnon says.

It could take weeks, even months to determine if rules were broken. Yes, there are rules.

PJ Cook spent 22 years in the Air Force as an aerial gunner. He has a Section 333 exemption from the FAA that allows him to do things a recreational or hobbyist pilot can’t, such as using his drone for commercial services.

“Then you agree to fly only up to 400 feet and no closer than five miles to an airport,” Cook says.

Other rules from the FAA prevent drones from flying near stadiums, and over crowds and moving vehicles. FAA rules also prevent flying at night and in places where people should expect privacy.

Privacy is exactly what William Merideth of Kentucky felt was violated when he spotted a drone flying over his sunbathing daughter at home. “Is he looking at the girls, at the young girls, or is he looking for something to steal?” Merideth told a reporter from our affiliate WAVE. “It’s an invasion of privacy.”

Merideth grabbed a shotgun and shot the drone out of the sky. He was later arrested and charged with two felonies. Several months later all the charges in Merideth’s case were dropped.

If you’ve recently purchased a drone and would like to learn more about the rules, visit Know Before You Fly for some great information.

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