When “Drone” Used to be a Boring Word

Webster’s top two definitions of the word “drone” are as follows:

1: A stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen.

2: one that lives on the labors of others: parasite

While bees and parasites have their allure, Webster’s third definition of the word “drone” is the one with current intrigue.

According to Webster’s, a drone is also “an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control or onboard computers.” Drones began as play things; but are now poised to revolutionize industry, retail, agriculture, journalism, art, and law at an ever-increasing pace.

Currently, drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration which has for decades regulated flight by planes and helicopters; but not everyone can own an airplane or helicopter. Everyone can own a drone and many soon will.

The soon-to-be pervasive use of drones will stretch at the fabric of criminal and civil law and raises intriguing questions with hazy answers.  For example,

1: Without probable case, can the government park a drone over a house or building, or even a crime-ridden city block, and monitor for criminal activity with sensors that easily peer through walls?

2: Does one have a reasonable expectation of privacy within a fenced-in back yard?

3: Is following a personal injury plaintiff via drone considered stalking?

4: Can a business fly a drone over a competitor’s work yard to observe it processes without recourse?

5: Is it legal to use technology (which is now available) to disrupt or even crash drones flying overhead? Would that be a tort?

In an upcoming Keogh Cox blog, we will advise of pending changes to the law that may begin to answer some of these questions. For now, we will observe that the word “drone” is no longer a boring word.