Drone Use The Topic Of Proposed Trespass Bill

February 12, 2014

For $200 you can buy a remote control helicopter, strap a camera to it, fly it over your neighbor’s property and peek through the windows.

State Rep. Bob Thorpe wants to stop that by making it illegal to use a drone to observe individuals or private property without permission. His legislation is aimed at plugging gaps in the laws designed to protect property.

“If you saw a kid climb over your fence in your back yard to retrieve a ball, you probably wouldn’t have a problem with that,” Thorpe said. “If you saw an adult climb in your back yard and then walk to your window and stare through your window, as a drone could do, that would be concerning to you.”

His bill would make anyone using a drone that way guilty of trespass. But Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall says that does not fit the legal definition of trespass.

“You have to knowingly enter a property that someone has control over,” LaWall said. “And you have to know you don't get to do that. You know what I mean? It's entering or remaining unlawfully on the property. Well, the air space above it is not on the property.”

Another provision of Thorpe’s measure would require police to get a warrant before using a drone to monitor an individual, a requirement that does not apply to tailing a person with a helicopter. But Thorpe says the low price and availability of drones means there’s a huge potential for abuse.