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Unpublished Paper
Self-Defense Against Robots
ExpressO (2014)
  • A. Michael Froomkin, University of Miami School of Law
  • Zak Colangelo
This paper examines when, under U.S. law, humans may use force against robots to protect themselves, their property, and their privacy. May a landowner legally shoot down a trespassing drone? May she hold a trespassing autonomous car as security against damage done or further torts? Is the fear that a drone may be operated by a paparazzo or a peeping Tom sufficient grounds to disable or interfere with it? How hard may you shove if the office robot rolls over your foot? This paper addresses all those issues and one more: what rules and standards we could put into place to make the resolution of those questions easier and fairer to all concerned. New rules are needed because the allowable self-help under standard tort doctrine varies from moderately clear (physical danger) to muddled (aerial trespass) to very unclear (robot/drone spying). In the case of aerial trespass, part of the confusion stems from the past and foreseeable acts of the FAA and part from uncertainty about how high one’s rights actually reach. The search for permissible responses to suspected privacy intrusions is complicated by the relatively little relevant caselaw, by the difficulties of valuing privacy harms, and by the difficulty most people would have in detecting whether a machine flying overhead is tapping into their wifi. We argue that the scope of permissible self-help in defending one's privacy should be quite broad. We also make a series of recommendations about standardizing robot and drone capabilities and notice requirements. For example, we propose the prohibition of weaponized robots on the grounds that if armed drones are not forbidden it would be too reasonable for landowners and others to fear them on sight, which would in turn justify violent self-help too often. Other proposals involve standardizing markings, lights, and RFID beacons so that drones and other robots give notice of their capabilities—or harmlessness—and so that victims of trespass or harassment can more easily trace machines back to their owners. The paper closes with some speculations about what the current limits on humans’ legal rights to defend themselves against robots in some circumstances may tell us about “robot rights.”
  • Robots,
  • Torts,
  • Privacy,
  • Self-help,
  • Trespass,
  • FAA,
  • Drones
Publication Date
August 8, 2014
Citation Information
A. Michael Froomkin and Zak Colangelo. "Self-Defense Against Robots" ExpressO (2014)
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