Drone Use by Media Investigated by FAA – Unit Seen Hovering over Fatal Car Crash
A recent incident in Massachusetts has opened ANOTHER can of worms in the drone surveillance issue.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the use of a drone by a Hartford TV station (FoxCT) to cover a fatal car crash February 1st. The victim's body was left hanging out of the mangled car, but before first responders could cover it, or begin cutting apart the car to extract it, a surveillance drone was seen hovering just a few dozen feet over the site. It is widely believed the TV station was able to capture clear footage of the dead person hanging outside their vehicle.
It has become an all-too familiar scene for police and firemen. Responding to a fire or accident, they see a drone hovering close by, obviously equipped with cameras. An employee of FoxCT (WFSB-TV) who was found to be operating the unit said he was not on duty that day, but the station confirmed they do have a temporary employee who operates it. The station does not own one, but was testing a unit.
The FAA has sent at least 12 warning letters to known drone operators, some of which have included orders to stop operations of any kind. Two years after a Congressional mandate to establish rules and regulations for small (less than 55 pounds) drone use, the FAA continues to put off the deadline. So, there currently aren't any regulations on the books as to how they can be used.
Police and fire units across the country say while they understand the media's desire to use them to more effectively cover the news, they also create ethical issues. Authorities say numerous times drones have been able to capture video footage of dead people at accident or fire scenes, and officials fear their families watching the coverage would find out a loved one or family member died a horrible death. According to Breitbart.com:
"Here was a dead body still on the scene. We had covered it the best we could," said Lt. Brian Foley, a Hartford police spokesman, who said drones have been appearing more frequently at crime scenes. "You don't want the family to see that."
So far the FAA is tackling the issue of drones that fly under 400 feet, because they are well below normal aircraft flight paths, and they are the easiest. Once the FAA is able to establish regulations for them, larger commercial drone regulation will follow. Drones are often used in closed set areas, such as the Sochi Olympics in Russia, but are not allowed to fly outside designated competition areas.
Here locally, some enthusiasts have been able to successfully cover community events and lend help to sporting event coverage such as the Columbia Cup and the Seahawks 12th man Badger Mtn. March with very positive feedback from the public. These units are obviously being used for a specific purpose to cover positive public happenings, not accidents or disasters. These Mid-Columbians were also using radio-controlled helicopters with add-on cameras and equipment, NOT your typical drone units.
However, drone use has already come under scrutiny. While the media value them because they can often give access to areas people cannot reach, including during disasters, privacy advocates are against the idea. The idea of drones buzzing overhead can also create psychological distress and worry among citizens. Newstalk 870 reported in 2012 drones being used by animal rights activists to "spy" on private hunt club bird shoots were shot down in Pennsylvania in October, and South Carolina in November 2012. Authorities were not able to make any arrests, but it's likely they were brought down by experienced hunters using rifles with telescopic sights. Both units were only hit by one bullet, but the damage they sustained, combined with ground impact destroyed both aircraft.
That brings up another issue with drone use. If the public becomes fearful or annoyed with their privacy being invaded, or feels threatened in any way, could they end up shooting them down? So far, hunters 2, drones 0.
It appears the biggest issue with the public and authorities with drones is what they are being used for, and whether people agree that use is a good idea.