A 2nd Amendment Right to Bear Drones

The FAA is cranky that a journalist took footage of the tornado in Arkansas the other day with a drone.

That footage, taken by storm chaser and photographer Brian Emfinger on Sunday, is now being investigated by federal aviation officials, after a local TV news channel used it as part of its disaster coverage. Mr. Emfinger, a Little Rock-based photojournalist, could be fined $10,000 if the government decides to pursue him for illegal drone-flying.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) insists that such “drone journalism” isn’t legal because it breaks rules against commercial use of unmanned aircraft. Nonetheless, some drone experts say the footage of post-tornado Mayflower heralds “the dawn of the drone journalism age” – a potentially vexing frontier that pits curious citizens against a government with qualms about the spying potential of drones.

CSM uses it to lay out the tensions currently surrounding the FAA’s role, as if this is just a question of FAA’s efforts to slowly develop a legal regime for drones.

But it’s not just that. One of the examples CSM cites deals with a dispute with local cops, who thought locally controlled drone photos of an accident site might affect the site.

And while the article treats a commercial missing persons use of drones, it doesn’t consider other uses, like non-commercial monitoring of environmental sites like industrial farm CAFOs (the latter of which finally got Chuck Grassley opposed to drones because it threatens his big Ag constituents). It also doesn’t mention earlier efforts to obtain independent (whether commercial or not) surveillance of big disasters, things like the BP catastrophe.

Some of what we’re seeing is FAA’s efforts to deal with real safety and privacy and overall legal regime concerns.

But it’s also a question of who gets to wield a certain kind of vision, one currently monopolized by the state.

I’m not a fan of the proliferation of drones generally, because I think that kind of vision should be very limited. But there are also many data points out there to suggest that drones will end up being a sharply circumscribed privilege, limited to only those the state thinks should have a certain kind of vision on society.

16 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Sheesh, you are so right, this raises all kind of privacy vs. freedom questions. Here’s another one – anyone care to answer? Would an acceptable (as to privacy) “commercial” use of a drone include a private eye using a drone to spy on a cheating spouse by following him around all day? And here’s another – what about 30 years from now, when drones with cameras will be small enough to (when flying) to be invisible to the human eye on the ground and to most if not all radar? What’s the right answer to that one? (My answer: I’ll be retired and parked on a recliner by then, you figure it out.)

  2. orionATL says:

    you begin solving this technology puzzle by agreeing that aii drones are extensions of a human eye – that of the owner/user.

    then you move on to decide whose eye has a right to be where and whose does not.

  3. bittersweet says:

    What is the difference between hiring a helicopter to fly over a scene and take photos, and hiring a helicopter to fly over a scene and take photos? Does whether you are riding on the plane really make a legal difference? What if the scene is in the city and you climb to a nearby rooftop to take photos? Use a hang glider, float in a hot air balloon? What is the legal issue here? The drone or the photo?
    It seems like a “safe airspace” argument is being used to limit legal photography. The limits on photography I hear about is when police advocates endeavor to pass laws to prevent people from capturing police abuse. Is it illegal to photograph a disaster scene? “What if someone takes a photo with that drone?” Needs to separated from “is it safe for the drone to fly?”

    • gmoke says:

      My understanding was that drones are FAA “legal” as long as they are flown under 400 feet (I may be wrong on the height limit) and within line of sight.

  4. Skilly says:

    As we move further into the world of digital trails and mechanized tracing of persons, will the concept of “expectation of privacy” become cliche? Has is already?

    • bloopie2 says:

      It will become a cliche, but only up to a point if we can corral the courts Specifically, the term “expectation of privacy” has to be clarified – who are we keeping thing private from, and who do we expect will not intrude on our privacy? We can have different levels – Facebook, personal friends, people walking down the street, and the Government. The one that counts is an “expectation of privacy from government intrusion”. That one can and should be strictly limited as to what they can do – much more so than our other personal relationships. That is because the Government is qualitatively different from everyone else, since it can put you in prison for doing things it doesn’t like. Everything needs to flow from that distinction. So, really what we need to be talking about is an “expectation of privacy from government intrusion”. That can help to answer a lot of questions.

  5. Don Bacon says:

    Old McDonald has an expansive farm,
    something that he owns.
    Old Mac needs visual info on that farm
    so he uses drones.

    The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment, predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses.

    So the FAA can go fish.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    Here’s a vid on the Mobius camera — a do-everything, mount any where breakthrough device.
    The Mobius is useful as a dash-cam, and has also been mounted on motorcyclists’ helmets and — most pertinent — on RC airplanes AKA drones.

  7. Scott Lazarowitz says:

    Robert Wenzel had this post on the libertarian views on drone ownership or use.


    I believe that if you want to own a drone, knock yourself out. Have fun. But that would obligate you to take extra responsibility for anything that goes wrong, or if your drone flies too closely to someone’s home. If your drone damages something, you pay for the damage. If your drone is too close and the homeowner believes you are invading her privacy, she has a right to shoot your drone down. It’s your loss. But basically, people have a right to use their own honestly-acquired equipment to photograph a disaster in progress, to track the police, or engage in any other peaceful activity that isn’t harming or threatening others, in my view.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    We generally have to assume that the government operatives will do everything they can do, with the Supremes fully supporting them. Those have been demonstrated.
    Then we have two options:
    1. Flood the court — put it all out there carelessly and overwhelm the system. I have been blogging anti-government stuff for ten years, and have an anti-war website, under my own name for example. What can they do about it?
    2. Avoid providing some information and avoid certain media. There is information on me that is not readily available. I don’t use a cell phone, or even have a phone, or a facebook, for examples and so that raises the bar a bit over what they can easily do. Sure, they can get anything if they work at it, but it’s a poor investment in my case because my emails are boring and I don’t do anything illegal.
    Meanwhile, getting back on topic, if you want to look around the neighborhood then go your local Verizon store and pick up a Parrot.
    Capture aerial footage with the new AR.Drone 2.0, the next generation quadricopter by Parrot. Controlled by your smartphone or tablet, the AR.Drone 2.0 shoots birds-eye footage that’s sharable on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and other social media networks.

  9. Don Bacon says:

    The FAA says it has made only one exception to its commercial ban, allowing oil company ConocoPhillips to survey marine mammals and ice in the Arctic.
    But Iowa farmers couldn’t care less about the FAA.
    Brent Johnson, a corn and soybean farmer in Calhoun County in central Iowa, purchased a drone in 2013 for $30,000 that is already paying dividends on his 900-acre farm. He has used the aircraft, which covers about 80 acres an hour, to study how yields on his property are affected by changes in topography. And last growing season he identified some areas where his corn stands were not strong enough.–DesMoinesRegister

  10. Don Bacon says:

    When the world’s largest photovoltaic power plant went online this week in Arizona, it began generating 290 megawatts of clean green electricity that’s powering 100,000 homes in neighboring California under a 25-year contract with utility Pacific Gas & Electric.
    [Ensuring continued operation] is no easy task for the project’s developer and operator, First Solar. Agua Caliente consists 5.2 million photovoltaic modules spread over nearly 10 square miles. Over time, modules will inevitably fail, which will depress electricity production. But finding a finding a faulty module is a time and labor-intensive endeavor, given that many solar power plants are built in remote areas of the desert. And as the number of big photovoltaic power plants proliferate, the stakes in the climate-change fight grow.
    Enter the drones.
    A Google-backed San Francisco startup called Skycatch, for instance, has developed a small and cheap drone outfitted with a high-resolution camera and various sensors. Failing solar modules emit a distinctive heat signature, which means a Skycatch five-pound quadcopter equipped with a thermal sensor can easily spot malfunctioning modules. These quadcopters fly low over solar arrays, going as fast as 50 miles per hour.
    “The commercialization of these solar projects is based on output and automation,” says Christian Sanz, Skycatch’s chief executive, who counts First Solar, Bechtel, and solar panel installer First Solar as customers for his aerial robots. “The more you can automate their operations, the more they’re viable.”

  11. The Tim Channel says:

    You can buy these really cool quadracopter drones off the shelf. YouTube is full of videos of people using these. They can go something like a thousand foot high and farther away from you than you can see them. They can be equipped with realtime video feeds back to your tablet/phone as well as collecting files onboard. There is excellent three axis gimbal mounting of cameras, with the Go Pro being the obvious mount of choice. You got somewhere between 1000 and 2000 bucks invested to get into the ballgame. Can be shipped to your home via overnight and probably available on Amazon. I know for sure they’re big business at BH Photo. Again, check YouTube and tell me how selective a prosecution this crap you’re reporting on here really is. And don’t be confused here people. These drones are dead simple to fly, operate with the accuracy of a crane mounted camera, stabilizing themselves via GPS. They’ll even return to where they took off if your transmitter goes dead!!! The danger to ‘the man”? You can equip one of the babies with a lightweight blowdart equipped weapon that could be easily directed at criminals who work in high finance. The real money is gonna be in drone protection zones around already gated communities. The cat is already WAY out of the bag. Enjoy.

  12. chronicle says:

    quote” You can equip one of the babies with a lightweight blowdart equipped weapon that could be easily directed at criminals who work in high finance.”unquote

    Call me interested when a drone mounted mini-shotgun MICROPHONE and infrared camera becomes available.

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