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.