Can You Report Someone Flying a Drone?


A drone is fun to use and play around with when you are using it the right way, whether for recreational or commercial purposes. However, there are some instances when someone might be flying a drone to do something that’s illegal or invasive of someone else’s right to safety, security, and privacy. If that is the case, is it possible to report someone who is flying a drone in an unsafe or illegal manner?

You can report someone flying a drone inappropriately. If you believe that the drone is being used for something illegal or dangerous, you can report it to the local first responders. If you believe that the drone pilot isn’t following FAA rules, you can report it to your local FAA district office.

While it can be fun and exciting to fly a drone, you need to understand that there are limits to what drones can and should do. That’s why it is imperative on the part of a good neighbor to make sure that anyone who might be using a drone recklessly or dangerously should be reported to the authorities. Dangerous drone use can possibly lead to catastrophic outcomes for the safety and security of the people involved.

How to report someone flying a drone illegally

There are now more drone pilots than ever before, with nearly 900,000 registered drones in the US alone. That means that this is a growing industry with a big following. One big reason for this is the number of uses for drones and their relative accessibility and affordability. 

But you have to understand that people just can’t do what they please when they are piloting their drones. There are limits to what a person can do with his or her drone, and the FAA strictly regulates drone flying with rules and restrictions intended to keep everyone involved safe and free from harassment.

The reasons why drones are as policed as they are can be attributed to how they can potentially endanger the safety and security of other people and also infringe on the privacy rights of others as well. As you know, drones can be controlled remotely from a distance, and have cameras that can easily be used for illicit purposes, regardless of whether or not they may have been intended.

So, if that is the case, what happens if you see someone flying a drone? It could be a neighbor or it could be someone who is visiting the neighborhood or the town. Can you report a person who is flying a drone?

Basically, you can only report someone flying a drone if there is a good reason to believe that the person is flying that drone for purposes that are probably endangering the safety, security, or privacy of other people within the vicinity. You could also report the person flying the drone if there is a good reason to believe that he is flying the drone against the rules of the FAA even if he isn’t doing something particularly dangerous with the drone.

So, if the person is flying a drone and there is a good reason to believe that he is doing something illegal or very dangerous while flying the drone, such as transporting illegal drugs from one place to another or using it to spy on someone’s personal space, then you could call the local first responders in your area to report the incident. 

Which agency you contact can depend on the situation and the activity involved but, in most cases, it should be the police department, especially if the activity involves something illegal. Generally, the first number to call would be 911, and the dispatcher can direct your call to the relevant agency. 

Meanwhile, if the person flying the drone isn’t doing something illegal or particularly very dangerous but there is a reason to believe that he is flying the drone in a way that is not in line with the rules and regulations of the FAA, you should report the person to the local FAA field office. The local FAA field office can then investigate the report and then follow up with the drone pilot so that the right penalties can be imposed.

However, if in fact the drone pilot isn’t doing anything that’s illegal and is abiding by the rules and regulations of the FAA, then the logical answer is that you cannot report that person for simply flying a drone. Don’t be a bad neighbor by reporting someone flying a drone if he is doing his part to make sure that he is following the law and the rules and regulations set by the FAA, and is flying in a safe, responsible way. 

Your fear of a possible infraction that may happen is not a good enough reason to report the drone pilot. There really has to be a good reason to believe that he is doing something illegal or dangerous for you to report him. 

Over-reporting drone “incidents” just because you happen to be nervous about drones will simply lead to the local authorities disregarding your concerns. Then if a real situation comes up, they’ll be less likely to believe you. Never cry wolf, right?

Can I take the drone down by myself?

If you do sense that someone is doing something illegal with a drone or is invading your privacy by flying the drone over your property, does that mean that you can take the drone out yourself by shooting it down from the sky?

The best answer to this is, no, you shouldn’t try to take matters into your own hands and bring the drone out of the sky yourself.

If you suspect or have hard evidence that the drone is causing harm to yourself, your property, or your privacy, the first course of action should be to notify the proper authorities. If you happen to be nervous about drones, you may not be happy to know that drones are allowed to fly over someone else’s property, as you don’t own all of the airspace above your property. If you get out a gun and shoot down a drone, you are destroying someone else’s property.

That’s why you need to report the incident to the proper authorities before you go out thinking that you can take the law into your own hands.

There are other alternatives to consider as well, if law enforcement is not doing anything to help you in what you believe to be a harmful or harassing situation involving a drone. 

For one thing, you can seek to get hard evidence that someone is invading your privacy or harassing you. Film the activity of the drone, including its take-off point, and anything it is doing that seems illegal or unsafe. Get the address and/or any identifying features of the operator of the drone. Take these pictures or videos to the police with specific ways it is harming you, not just “it’s bothering me”.

Another option to consider is anti-drone devices such as signal jammers, catching nets, or other devices that can bring the drone down to the ground without damaging the drone unduly. Just keep in mind that you will be held responsible for damaging someone else’s property if you don’t handle the situation appropriately. 

One of the best actions to take, first before calling the authorities or catching the drone in a net would be to simply approach the individual operating the drone and politely and respectfully ask them to stop filming you or your property. You might be surprised to find that a direct and gentle approach can halt the situation before it gets out of hand. 

What to do if your neighbor has a drone?

What if your neighbor has a drone and you are fearing for your own safety, security, and privacy even without your neighbor doing anything? What can you do to make sure that you get to protect your rights?

The only thing you can do here is to contact your neighbor and try to tell him in a nice way that you have fears regarding your privacy. This will allow the neighbor to understand your position on the matter and for him to learn that he has limits in relation to what he can do with the drone. Of course, when contacting him and speaking to him properly, it is best to make sure that you know the guidelines set by the FAA regarding drones so that you are not going in uninformed.

But what if your neighbor has already done something that annoyed you, flying over your property, but it wasn’t specifically dangerous or illegal? What can you do in such a situation where you feel he is endangering your security and privacy?

For starters, you can’t just shoot the drone. The best course here is still to talk to your neighbor so that he can understand the wrong that he did and so that he would refrain from flying over your property.

However, if your neighbor is not responding to you when you try to reach out to him, what you can do is file a lawsuit for private nuisance. A letter from a lawyer will usually get someone’s attention, and if it comes to that you can still argue in court that the drone is a nuisance to you and your property. 

While you do not own all the airspace above your home, you do have some limited rights over the immediate airspace above it. A good example is when the drone is flying just a few feet above your property. In such an instance, you may be able to file an action for trespass especially if the drone did not only just pass by your property but actually stayed there for a good amount of time.

Especially if the drone did something such as take photos or videos of you while you were on your property, you might be able to file an action for invasion of privacy. That’s because you now have a reason to believe that the drone wasn’t just innocently flying over your property but is doing something that endangers your privacy rights.

All of the abovementioned actions that you can take are good alternatives to taking the law into your own hands. Still, the best action is to try to smooth things over with your neighbor over a good conversation so that you don’t have to take things to court just to resolve a simple issue that could have been fixed between two mature adults. Then again, you can also report the incident to the police or the local FAA if there is a reason to believe that what your neighbor did falls under the reportable incidents.

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Editor-in-Chief. Elizabeth is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Droneblog. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies such as flying a drone.

Recent Posts