As mishaps with unmanned aircraft systems become more publicized so have the legal questions surrounding their use.
A panel of attorneys sought to clarify some of the laws of unmanned flight, data capture and insurance Tuesday at the ninth annual UAS Summit & Expo in Grand Forks.
Invasion of privacy is one legal problem that comes with UAS use, conjuring images of unmanned aircraft flying over fences and hovering outside windows.
Lisa Ellman, a partner with Hogan Lovells law firm in Washington, D.C., said the privacy pushback is similar to those experienced by past technologies, including cameras and the Post Office.
"Apprehension in times of innovation is very common in our society and our history," she said.
Often, laws already protect people from this problem. For example, some forms of privacy invasion can be punishable under existing trespassing laws in some states.
There are states that have tried or succeeded in regulating the use of unmanned aircraft in an attempt to protect residents' privacy, but the laws that have passed are not uniform in language.
Florida prohibits photography of privately owned property without permission while Arkansas and Mississippi ban the aircraft being used for voyeurism or "peeping Tom" activities.
Some laws create a means of civil recourse if people believe unmanned aircraft have been used to invade their privacy.
Other laws seek to limit flights of unmanned aircraft, often responses to incidents of devices being flown unsafely or illegally by Federal Aviation Administration standards.
Ellman and others pointed to stronger enforcement of those standards as a potential means of curbing irresponsible use of the technology before a major accident prompts FAA action.
"If there's any tragedy-a UAS collision with a manned aircraft-enforcement would change drastically," said Jeffrey Antonelli, founder of Antonelli Law in Chicago.
Operators caught flying UAS illegally can be fined up to $25,000. This includes people flying unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes without an FAA exemption as those practices are banned by the agency.
Those flying the devices for recreational and exempted commercial purposes are encouraged to get insurance coverage, including liability insurance, according to Donald Mark Jr., founder of Fafinski Mark & Johnson law firm in Eden Prairie, Minn.
Mark also said some insurance companies do have coverage exemptions in the case of unlawful flights, interference with the use of property or hijacking. In those circumstances, the insurance carrier would not cover injuries or damages.
While insurance is considered a must for commercial operators, it sometimes won't prevent a lawsuit, said Courtney Bateman, attorney with Reed Smith law office in Washington, D.C.
In an example from the audience, a manufacturer wondered how to avoid a lawsuit from a customer caught misusing a device and blaming it on the aircraft going haywire.
"No matter how much engineering you do, how much documentation you do, you'll still get sued," Bateman said.
The panel recommended looking into computer forensic examiners in that case to recover flight information recorded prior to the incident.