As drones grow in popularity, states across the nation are adopting laws
to protect privacy and limit drone usage, but what about California? Drones
are classified as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and often carry cameras,
video recording devices, or, sometimes, weapons. While sometimes the visual
and audio aids help the operator to fly the drone or create videos, they
can also be used for more nefarious purposes.
Air Space Regulations
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), drones may fly
above private property if they are not engaging in criminal activities
or causing harm or injury. The FAA also requires all drones between 0.55
and 55 pounds to be registered by their owners, who must carry the registration
certificate whenever the drone is in flight. Failure to do so could lead
to fines of up to $27,500, or, in more serious situations, criminal penalties
may include 3 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
While California has not enacted any legislation specifically against drone
use, there are other laws in place that may apply to improper drone operation.
In California, the following civil and criminal laws may apply to drone use:
Civil Code Section 1708.8: Trespassing, or the physical invasion of privacy, either by entering private
land or air space without permission, especially to take images or recordings
in an offensive way.
Civil Code Section 3481: Protection against private nuisances, such as the disruptive noise of
the blades of the drone near an individual or his or her premises.
Penal Code Section 632: Privacy regarding eavesdropping or unlawful recording of conversations
where the recorded parties did not give consent.
Penal Code Section 634: Trespassing on private property and committing, or attempting to commit
an act in violation of Penal Code Sections 631, 632, 632.5, 632.6, 632.7, or 636.
Penal Code Section 646.9: Stalking, or purposefully repeatedly following another person, sometimes
with malicious intent or to intentionally cause fear.
Penal Code Section 647: Invasion of privacy, especially using technology, including cameras and
Also, according to the
Code of Civil Procedure Sections 525-526, and 527.6, someone who has been harassed may obtain a temporary restraining order
or injunction against the responsible party (or drone operator).
California Penalties and Punishment
Violating these laws with drone snooping or other misconduct could result
in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the severity of the crime.
The resulting punishment may also be more severe if the accused already
has previous convictions.
Penalties for violating the following civil and penal codes may include:
Civil Code Section 1708.8: Repayment of up to 3 times the amount of damages caused by the invasion
of privacy, and a fine between $5,000 and $50,000.
Civil Code Section 3481: Compensation for the victim’s damages and any additional civil fines.
Penal Code Section 632 (Eavesdropping): If charged as a misdemeanor, up to 1 year in jail and a fine of $2,500.
If charged as a felony, up to 3 years in prison and up to $2,500 in fines.
Penal Code Section 634 (Trespass-Invasion of Privacy): For a first offense, the punishment is up to $2,500 in fines, up to 1
year in jail or up to $10,000 in fines and 1 year in jail for later offenses.
Penal Code Section 646.9 (Stalking): If charged as a misdemeanor, up to 1 year in jail and court fines. If
charged as a felony, up to 5 years in prison.
Penal Code Section 647 (Disorderly Conduct): Charged as a misdemeanor and punishable by up to 6 months in jail and
a fine of $1,000 for first-time offenders, or a year in jail and $2,000
for later offenses.
To crack down on local drone usage, Los Angeles city enacted laws in October
of last year to limit where and how they are flown. However, while these
laws are all to be upheld, it is also illegal to shoot a drone in response
to the following violations.
In Los Angeles, drones may not:
- Fly within 5 miles of an airport
- Interfere with any manned aircraft
- Fly out of the sight of the operator
- Fly within 25 feet of another person, except during takeoff and landing
- Fly at night
- Exceed 400 feet in flight.
Failure to follow these Los Angeles drone laws may lead to a misdemeanor
charge, and up to 6 months in jail and a fine of $1,000.
As legislation about drone usage continues to develop, and technology continues
to advance, know your rights about privacy and compensation for harm.
Regardless of the lack of specific laws, it is still very possible to
take legal action to defend yourself from improper or invasive drone usage.
Contact Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners to discuss your legal situation and learn what defenses and options are
available to you.