Property Rights

Sen. Mike Lee Would Let You Decide if Drones Can Fly Less Than 200 Feet Above Your House

The Drone Integration and Zoning Act seeks to expand private property rights and give localities more say in airspace regulation.

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A bill introduced in Congress this week would put 200 feet between your yard and the federal government's regulatory powers.

Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah) on Wednesday announced the Drone Integration and Zoning Act of 2019, with the goal of shrinking the scope of the federal government and expanding property rights. His bill would distribute some of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) authority over the nation's airspace to localities and private citizens by redefining "navigable airspace," broadly defined by the FAA as "the airspace at or above the minimum altitudes of flight that includes the airspace needed to ensure safety in the takeoff and landing of aircraft." His proposal would exclude airspace 200 feet above any given property from FAA regulation.

"The best way to ensure public safety and allow this innovative industry to thrive is to empower the people closest to the ground to make local decisions in real time," Lee said in a statement.

This would functionally prohibit any commercial or recreational drone operators from using the 200 feet above a property without receiving explicit consent from the property owner. Lee's bill would also grant local authorities control over the establishment of unmanned aircraft takeoff and landing zones within their jurisdictions.

Not everybody sees decentralizing drone regulation as a positive thing. The FAA opposes disseminating the regulation of "unmanned aircraft systems," (government lingo for drones) to the states.

In 2015, the FAA justified its total control over "navigable airspace" by expressing concerns over creating a "patchwork quilt" of differently regulated portions of U.S. airspace. In particular, the FAA worries that a federalist approach to airspace will threaten "safety [and] efficient air traffic flow." Essentially, the FAA says it should have sole dominion over the country's airspace.

The debate concerning drone use over private property is not new. In 2015, a Kentucky man was arrested after he shot down a drone that was hovering above his house since he thought it was recording his 16-year-old daughter sunbathing in his backyard. The man, William Merideth, was charged with wanton endangerment and criminal mischief for his actions.

David Boggs, the drone's owner, testified that his drone was higher above Merideth's house than Merideth had stated, claiming that the destruction of his drone was unwarranted. However, Bullitt County District Court Judge Rebecca Ward dismissed the charges against Merideth, due to eyewitness accounts placing the drone below the tree line on Merideth's property when Merideth shot it, declaring the drone's presence as a violation of Merideth's expectation of privacy on his own property.

Lee's bill is an attempt to give greater clarity to what is a somewhat murky legal situation. For now, the FAA recommends operating drones "at or below 400 feet." But without more clearly defined property rights, those guidelines seem to only encourage confrontations like the one between Merideth and Boggs.

The case is also a good demonstration of why the federal government should allow localities to determine their own guidelines for mundane activities like drone use; local authorities are better equipped to craft policies more in line with local values than a federal bureaucracy. Lee's Act might very well make it more challenging for companies or recreational drone users to operate their aircrafts, but it will also allow Americans' property rights to take to the sky.

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  1. Who needs Lee’s law? I’m training my dog to shoot down drones with a laser beam helmet mounted on its head.

  2. I need to buy a shotgun.

    1. 200′ / 66 2/3 yards; it’s a stretch so you’ll need a full choke and probably #4 to make a good hit at that range; or use decoys [whatever you think they are looking for] to bring em’ in.

        1. Tough shot, but go for it. Me, I’m going to do what they guy in KY did with his 16 y/o bikini clad daughter, only with a blow up doll.

      1. BB or BBB goose loads.

        1. And if you’re using steel you will probably not want the full choke.

  3. shotguns can decide this.

  4. Navigable airspace is traditionally 360-500 ft above the tallest structure. 200 ft is too low. Although drones can “navigate” inches above the ground, FAA authority was never intended to include such devices.

    1. If their authority wasn’t intended to include it, maybe they shouldn’t.

    2. That 500+ foot ‘navigable airspace’ definition (plus ALL drone operations over airport land) seems better.

    3. “FAA authority was never intended to include such devices” — This kind of growing stench from the federal agencies has been going on for a while. Claiming private property ponds as “navigable waters” and then stealing them and regulating them to death.

      +1000 to Mike Lee for putting limits on federal over-reach

      1. I agree.

        But it ain’t the fed bureaucrats who are really driving this. It’s Amazon and Google. The last thing they want is either a ton of local/state laws – or the absolute impossibility of millions of individually negotiated easements. The big companies are always the ones who drive regulation from the local to the federal and now supranational level.

    1. A similarly narrative-contrary, life and (somewhat) libertarian-affirming news story:

      Florida Deputies use Twitter to tell man to stop calling 911 about his stolen marijuana.

    2. There’s something to be said about mob rule in a situation like that.

      1. It’s heartening to know that regular folk aren’t having any of their Greta Thunberg lectures during commute time.

      2. good thing nobody had guns or knives

    3. Ironic that the pesky proletariat was actually using public transportation. Cars are much harder to stop by protesters.

      1. LOL. Clearly you have not lived in Portland. There is a river through the center of the city and the fuckers block the bridges.

  5. The case is also a good demonstration of why the federal government should allow localities to determine their own guidelines for mundane activities like drone use; local authorities are better equipped to craft policies more in line with local values than a federal bureaucracy.

    Now do section 230.

    Drones shouldn’t be allowed to fly within 200 ft. of your own airspace unless the drone is being piloted by someone else. Then the drone’s owner can’t be held liable for any/all violations of your airspace. Otherwise, we’d face a tidal wave of drone airspace lawsuits and the burgeoning drone service provider industry would collapse before it could begin.

    1. So the modern equivalent of railroad rights of way; aka you cannot stop progress, so don’t even think about it.

    2. Actually I think it would be more like “you can’t sue the manufacturer or retailer of a drone because someone else flew the drone over your property, even though they directly facilitated this person having and flying a drone”

      1. Actually I think it would be more like “you can’t sue the manufacturer or retailer of a drone because someone else flew the drone over your property, even though they directly facilitated this person having and flying a drone”

        Actually, the reason you distinguish manufacturer or retailer from owner is because they only directly facilitate a purchase. Whereas with a user and a service provider the question of who’s providing the message and who’s deciding whom it gets distributed to is much less clear. You can, and we do, hold a owners and service providers responsible for acts they should’ve knowingly prevented without turning *every* sale of anything anywhere in the economy into a abettal… like an idiot.

    3. While I do think a uniformity of rules might be conducive to innovation, I definitely don’t think ceding property rights for some nebulous potential benefit is the correct choice. I think leaving the rules in the hands of the cities – as well as shotguns in the hands of more privacy minded citizens – should be sufficient.

  6. The debate concerning drone use over private property is not new. In 2015, a Kentucky man was arrested after he shot down a drone that was hovering above his house since he thought it was recording his 16-year-old daughter sunbathing in his backyard.

    However, Bullitt County District Court Judge Rebecca Ward dismissed the charges against Merideth, due to eyewitness accounts placing the drone below the tree line on Merideth’s property when Merideth shot it, declaring the drone’s presence as a violation of Merideth’s expectation of privacy on his own property.

    In context (or maybe out), spying on minors from 200 ft. = bad, spying on minors from 300 ft. = OK (with permission).

    1. “he thought it was recording his 16-year-old daughter sunbathing in his backyard.”

      Thought my ass.

      200+ feet = open skies.

        1. With a scope or a decent red dot that would not be a bad choice.

          I’ve recently discovered CCI “Quiet” rounds that make it sound as though you had a suppressor; much like an air rifle. They won’t cycle the 10/22 but they’re perfect in a lever gun. I’d say they’d be fine at 200 feet or less.

          1. A friend of mine uses some subsonic .22 rounds on his Remington .22 rifle that has a suppressor. With that combination, it literally sounds like the gun is just dry-firing. Most amazing thing I’ve never heard. Might be those CCI quiets.

          2. I once popped 4 ground squirrels within a minute or less using those 440 fps primer-only quiet rounds. First shot made a second squirrel curious; that shot made a third one curious; and the third shot made one run across the front yard. They only heard the shot hitting, not being fired, otherwise the first shot would have scared them all into hiding.

              1. Fried or stewed?

      1. Libertarian Socialism FTW. It seems.

  7. Distributing this to private landowners is a form of cronyism and fiduciary irresponsibility – giving property rights that are currently public to private without the slightest bit of payment received.

    Distributing this to states/local and taking it away from the FAA is exactly the right approach.

    It’s a similar issue to the roads actually. Distributing say 1 sq ft of road to everyone in the US would certainly be a way of privatizing that land. It would also immediately eliminate the daily value users get (not having to negotiate 1000 easements every morning in order to commute to work) and ultimately give that to a private monopolist (once that land was inevitably consolidated into one private owner).

    1. False equivalence.

      1. Yep – There may have been a point to be made if ALL airspace was say at 200-feet and 200-feet ONLY like all roads being at 0-feet into the “airspace”. Sorry, JFree – You loose that point.

        Oh, and just for an FYI – your LOCAL county, city, or states DOES negotiate 1,000’s of easements of PRIVATE PROPERTY for roads. So don’t pretend its some sort of UN-obtainable process.

        1. How much do they charge you for that when you use the road?

          1. Hmmm….Let me check my last property tax bill.

    2. Distributing this to private landowners is a form of cronyism and fiduciary irresponsibility – giving property rights that are currently public to private without the slightest bit of payment received.

      You’re starting from the wrong premise. The federal government does not actually have “property rights” in airspace. The airspace belongs to the property owner. For example, you can build in your airspace and aircraft need to avoid your buildings.

      It’s just that the federal government in the past took a kind of easement in order to allow manned aircraft to fly high overhead.

      If anything, the FAA “navigable airspace” represents an ongoing infringement on private property rights that should be undone or limited further.

      1. Yeah, I agree that their rule essentially seized private property as a sort of easement. I’m less sure what I think the correct response is. I definitely think that leaving it in the hands of the federal government is rarely the best option – though I will concede that generates the greatest uniformity in rules, which is of some benefit to people trying to innovate in the space. But I think allowing some innovation in the rules themselves, by devolving the authority to local governments (not even the states, I think) would be preferable. Leaving it entirely in the hands of private citizens is arguably the most libertarian method, but it does seem like there’s something of a coordination problem there that would lead to the airspace either being severely underused or routinely violated. Personally, I think the fact that shotguns are cheap and relatively simple to use means we can give the authority to the local governments with the understanding that any use which sufficiently annoys a local property owner will be punished in a traditionally direct american fashion.

    3. It’s a similar issue to the roads actually. Distributing say 1 sq ft of road to everyone in the US would certainly be a way of privatizing that land. It would also immediately eliminate the daily value users get (not having to negotiate 1000 easements every morning in order to commute to work) and ultimately give that to a private monopolist (once that land was inevitably consolidated into one private owner).

      Oh, please, spare us the economic nonsense that this creates “private monopolists”. Even if it did, a “private monopolist” is far preferable to a public monopolist.

      1. Really? So how much time do you spend every morning negotiating easements from every landowner from your house to work to get to work? You ever noticed that there’s always one holdout – like halfway to work that won’t let you cross his little patch of land without jacking up the price cuz he knows you gotta cross his land? Or maybe a guy who decides to go on vacation for a month and shuts off all easement discussion and in so doing shuts down your ‘route’ to work?

        If you never did the first and never had the second/third happen, then congrats you have received a significant benefit from govt roads without paying for it. Cuz I can guarantee you that the cost of getting that stuff done by a private monopolist would be a significant % of your income – like double-digit % – JUST to use the road to get to work to earn that income. Because they will charge as much as the market will bear and the alternative will be you negotiating all that crap yourself.

        And the transaction cost of negotiating all that stuff from different parties is one of the two insights of Coase that won him a Nobel – The Nature of the Firm. So yeah – the ownership would then concentrate into a private monopoly.

        1. The “negotiating” was done when the road was constructed.

          1. And you receive the value of that every time you use the road. If it were a private owner, you would pay for it – whatever the market would bear – every time you use the road.

            It is cronyism – free lunch time – when you expect the benefit to be ‘free’ when done by govt.

            It’s not really a surprise that ‘libertarians’ (esp the R sort) are completely at ease with getting their free lunch. It’s only the other guys free lunch that’s a prob isn’t it.

            1. And the big picture you’re entirely missing is that we’re NOT the United Persons of America. We are a Republic of United States. Might I suggest you actually take the time to read the Constitution someday. Local community governments should have the powers to communized (although the less the better). Federal ONLY communises for national strength (i.e. National Security).

              There is no such thing as a free-lunch; as someone else has told you; LOCAL property taxes, fuel tax and sales tax drive road negotiations. Yes, it is communised LOCALLY. No — it’s not an excuse to lobby for a communist nation.

              And as stated before – Since roadway IS actually a limited resource all must be at 0-feet from land and specifically here or there for the most part. I think we can let LOCAL governments to band together to create them IF they so democratically elect to do so.

        2. A heaping helping of ad absurdum topped with an appeal to authority. Nobel prize winner? Now, THAT is a spicy meatball.

          A meatball made out of ground beef, parsley, basil, marjoram, garlic and substituting bullshit for the breadcrumbs. There isn’t enough red sauce in Sicily to cover up that taste.

        3. Really? So how much time do you spend every morning negotiating easements from every landowner from your house to work to get to work?

          I live in an HOA with a few hundred home owners, and the roads are common property. I don’t have to negotiate anything, since this is part of the bylaws of the association. In a libertarian world, private property owners would get together between them and arrange for transportation under larger and larger associations.

          You seem to have this bizarro notion that libertarian arrangements are just like complete private property ownership under the current system, except without pesky government regulations. That is, frankly, idiotic. In a libertarian society, most people would likely have more restrictions, not fewer, on what they can do with “their private property”.

          If you never did the first and never had the second/third happen, then congrats you have received a significant benefit from govt roads without paying for it.

          I probably pay more in taxes than you earn, and I’m not getting my money’s worth.

          1. JFree probably has “earnings” only if you count government assistance as “earning”. Does he sound like he has anything of value to offer as an employee?

  8. Was wondering if a green laser would at least mess up the camera. Then would not have to deal with the cops showing up.

    1. I believe that this is really the purpose of Mike Lee’s proposal. Federal agencies have been using drones to spy on private property for years and a lot innocent (as in innocent until proven guilty) people are getting pretty sick of the violation of privacy.

  9. Think of all the fun involved in screwing with your neighbors’ Amazon drone deliveries.

  10. How about passive or less obvious interference with drone flight? Maybe some fine mesh mist nets strung up between high points. You want your drone back? Gonna cost you.

    Or delving into sci-fi, something that disrupts drone radio control communication–or maybe fries the little drone brain, so it wanders away or crashes?

    1. I would think scrambling or interference wouldn’t be technically too difficult but the FCC is going to put the kibosh on that pretty quick

      1. If you’re hitting it at any appreciable range I’m pretty sure the FAA (if not the Air Force) is going to become very interested very quickly. It’s probably going to float if you live in a rural enough area that nobody notices anything odd happening on their comms or nav gear, but if you live in a rural enough area for that to be true I think birdshot is a simpler solution to your problems than a radio jammer.

  11. Drones are expensive compared to clay pigeons but good for the conservationists of the pigeons.

  12. Time to nip drone-based spying / “policing” in the bud, and take a bite of out the “open fields” doctrine too. If it requires technology beyond an given individual’s normal eyeglasses to see into my property, then it’s an invasion of privacy. If I put a fence up, or close a door, it means “leave me alone”.

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