Former Utah congressman, Jason Chaffetz said that he wanted to get his shotgun and blast a drone out of the yard. Instead, he got a bill approved to study and specify criminal liability for drone operators.
On a Saturday morning last summer, a drone was allegedly flying for 30 minutes over or near Chaffetz’s house in Alpine, Utah. a small town some 30 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Chaffetz, who served in Congress from 2009-2017, was annoyed with the drone and contacted Senator Mike Kennedy (R-Alpine) to do something about it.
“[Chaffetz is] a constituent of mine who back last summer called me when a drone for 30 minutes was hovering over his backyard on a Saturday morning,” Kennedy said. “He was kind of tired of that because it’s not the first time that it happened.”
Apparently, it wasn’t the first time a drone had ‘invaded’ Chaffetz’s privacy as he told a local news outlet that it had happened “more than a couple” times at his Alpine home.
Chaffetz reaching out to Senator Kennedy has resulted in Senate Bill 122, which was unanimously approved, 23 to 0, on a second reading, on Thursday.
Senate Bill 122 sets up a working group to study drone policy and specifies criminal liability for drone operators who commit offenses while operating unmanned aircraft.
It still needs to pass the Senate one more time before it heads to the House of Representatives, KJZZ14 reports.
Expressing his level of annoyance with unmanned aircraft flying over his backyard, Chaffetz said:
“You want to go get your shotgun and blast them out of the yard, but there’s ramifications for that. It’s a tough issue, but it’s an issue that’s not going to go away easily. We have to really think through how to deal with this. I mean, it’s essentially a camera that flies over your yard.”
The working group must submit recommendations to lawmakers on drone policy by the end of September under Kennedy’s legislation. It also states that if a drone operator is in command of a drone and commits an offense, they may be held criminally liable.
Chaffetz says that he doesn’t know who has been flying drones near his backyard, but that the problem goes beyond that.
“Maybe just some neighborhood kids having fun. I don’t know,” he said. “But the point is, what would you do about it? You don’t have to be a well-known personality to also have this problem.”
DroneXL’s take: Bad idea to blast drone with shotgun
Blasting a drone out of the air with a shotgun is a very bad idea. A drone is considered an aircraft, and shooting at an aircraft is a federal offense.
Fortunately, it seems that the former congressman realizes this as well.
Instead, Chaffetz reaches out to one of his political friends and quickly gets a bill approved to study the options to go after a drone pilot for any possible criminal offenses.
However, simply flying a drone over somebody’s private property, such as a backyard, does not automatically constitute a criminal offense.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the only government agency that has authority over all the airspace in the United States, so state laws or local ordinances that make drone flying illegal would not hold up in court.
Local rules and ordinances can prohibit an operator from taking off and landing a drone in certain areas, such as state parks, but they do not govern the airspace over such areas.
Using a drone to invade one’s privacy or to harass somebody would be problematic, but it is not clear if that is what happened here. Existing privacy laws would deal with ‘peeping Tom’ situations.
It will be interesting to see what comes out of the study mandated by Senate Bill 122, but I can’t imagine it will be much.
Let us know in the comments below what you think about this former congressman getting a bill passed so quickly to study if and how drone operators can be held criminally liable for simply flying a drone over somebody’s backyard.
Btw – it would not be the first time that somebody with political ties blasts a drone out of their backyard.
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