Privacy Concerns

California Man Must Pay for Gunning Down His Neighbor's Drone

Former Staff Writer
2 min read

The drone revolution hasn’t even reached peak velocity yet, and suspicious residents are already gunning down one another’s devices.

Case in point: Modesto, Calif., resident Eric Joe was piloting his homemade hexacopter one afternoon last November when, suddenly, his neighbor shot it out of the sky. Brett McBay, who said he assumed the drone was a CIA surveillance device, immediately grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun and demolished it on his first attempt. Sounds reasonable enough, right?

While Joe didn’t initially confront McBay -- "I didn't want to get argumentative with a guy with a shotgun," he told Ars Technica -- he followed up with an email later that evening seeking $700 in damages. The drone’s GPS showed it had been shot when it was above Joe’s own property, he argued, and there hadn’t even been a camera affixed to the device.

“I also ask you the courtesy of not shooting live ammunition in our direction,” he wrote. “This is the third time discharge from your firearms has hit our house and property” -- following a bullet hole in one of the family’s doors and a raining birdshot in their backyard.

Related: 6 Ways Martha Stewart Is Staying Relevant

But McBay refused. While he initially offered to pay for half of the repairs, Joe was ultimately forced to take him to small claims court, which ruled that McBay owed him $850 -- and which he has still yet to fork over.

All of this begs the question: What protections do drone-weary citizens have as the gadgets increasingly fill our friendly skies? While McBay’s concern may have been valid, his reaction wasn’t, the court ultimately ruled.

"We don’t believe that the drone was over McBay’s property -- we maintain that it was briefly over the shared county access road," Joe's attorney, Jesse Woo, told Ars Technica. "But even if it did, you're only privileged to use reasonable force in defense of property. Shooting a shotgun at this thing that isn't threatening your property isn't reasonable."

Related: A Drone Unlike Any You've Ever Seen

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