The German train operator, Deutsche Bahn, recently announced it wants to use drones equipped with cameras to pursue graffiti sprayers. Since then, public concern over the use of drones and the dangers they bring has grown.
It is not just states, militaries and companies that have access to drones. Now, private individuals can buy smartphone-controlled drones from any local electronics trader to survey their surroundings.
However, before taking to the skies, hobby pilots should ask themselves whether their incursion into the next door neighbour’s garden is legal.
Conversely, those who find themselves being observed or filmed should consider whether they are permitted to shoot down illegally-patrolling drones with an air gun?
German lawyer and partner at Wilde Beuger Solmecke, Christian Solmecke, gives his assessment of the legal position concerning drones:
Due to the dangerous potential of drones to conduct illegal surveillance and monitoring, strict rules apply to their use. The rules apply not only to states or police forces, but also to private individuals.
Drones which are not equipped with a camera, for example, only infringe the rights of others when they are continually flown and therefore become a nuisance. A property owner would then be legally permitted to require the drone operator to stop flying over their land.
Video recording infringes personality rights
Personality right infringements may occur where a person attaches a camera to a drone and uses it to film or take photographs of individuals without their consent. This is because a person has a right protect their personal image.
Infringements of a person’s general personality rights may also be present when a drone films an individual’s property without their consent.
A person who is in a public space may also complain about personality right infringements if the feel like they are being observed and their privacy is at risk. This even applies to drones which can fly at above 30 metres and are therefore classed as flying objects under statutory provisions on air traffic.
Are you permitted to shoot down illegal drones?
It goes without saying that people whose rights are infringed by illegally filming or flying drones may defend themselves.
Similar to the rules on self-defence against a person, damaging or destroying an object in order to prevent a legal infringement is permitted.
If your neighbour snaps some non-consensual clips of you, your family or your private property, you are legally allowed to remove the threat from the skies or otherwise to render the drone harmless.
However, premature vigilante justice against drones is not permitted.
Initially, you should, if possible, make attempts to discuss the matter with your neighbour. Otherwise you should contact the police or obtain some other form of state help. If help is not forthcoming and your rights cannot be rapidly protected, shooting down a drone yourself may come into question.
This is at least the theoretical position.
Before taking any drastic steps, it should remembered that you would be required to prove in court that self-defence was necessary, including that a camera was clearly filming or taking photographs. It may be difficult to prove such circumstances; and it should always be considered that, in the heat of battle, mistakes can be made.
If you get it wrong, you may face civil law claims for compensation or even criminal damage charges.
Pulling the trigger
Drone hunters should pause for thought before pulling the trigger. They should make sure they are absolutely certain that personality right infringements are taking place and that there are no other options for obtaining redress.
In summary, it seems a cautious approach is required. Before pulling the trigger, remember that drones are not wild game.