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The Right To Bear Drones?

Shortly after our writing about Frank Fukuyama’s drone, President Obama signed a bill into law which will have broad-ranging consequences for the development of the domestic drone business. The New York Times summarizes the bill:

Under the new law, within 90 days, the F.A.A. must allow police and first responders to fly drones under 4.4 pounds, as long as they keep them under an altitude of 400 feet and meet other requirements. The agency must also allow for “the safe integration” of all kinds of drones into American airspace, including those for commercial uses, by Sept. 30, 2015. And it must come up with a plan for certifying operators and handling airspace safety issues, among other rules.

The bill steers clear of assigning any responsibility to the F.A.A. for even considering privacy issues. These sorts of problems will no doubt come up as individuals and businesses start pushing the boundaries of people’s expectations, and will be then dealt with by the courts. This is as it should be.

The article does a good job of highlighting the ingenious uses people have found for unmanned aircraft: drones are already being used for everything from aerial photography of high end real estate to feral pig hunting.  These uses have been in a kind of legal gray area up until now, with the F.A.A. warning (but not fining) individuals.

The domestic drone business is estimated at $5.9 billion, and is expected to grow sharply in the coming years. There are many legitimate uses for these things, and Via Meadia is heartened that the Obama administration has taken steps to encourage their adoption in a responsible way.

But the devil is always in the details. For one, it remains to be seen exactly how the F.A.A. interprets the “safe integration” mandate. And as Frank Fukuyama himself noted in the FT yesterday, drone technology is not standing still. Drones will become smaller, harder to trace, and more capable of being used for violent ends. This story is far from finished, and we’ll be keeping an eye on it—we don’t want TAI‘s chairman running into legal trouble!

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  • Mike Anderson

    Offhand, I can already see:

    (1) my municipal water company snooping to see if anyone is watering on even, odd, or politically-incorrect days;

    (2) entrepreneurial Moriartys casing whole subdivisions for houses to burgle;

    (3) my home security company videotaping the same burglars in the act, and getting a solid conviction;

    (4) robo-stalking;

    (5) a resurgence in American marksmanship as we all eagerly take up the game of Pot the Drone, complete with confirmed kills decals for our car doors; and

    (6) litigation from sea to photo-surveilled shining sea.

    Laissez les bons temps rouler.

  • Robert

    Would-be deployers of drones should keep foremost in mind The Primary Rule of Drones: First, establish air superiority.

    There’s a lot of shotguns out there in the land.

  • Corlyss

    Does the proliferation of these things threaten commercial air traffic?

  • Some Sock Puppet

    Oh, this is a police state’s [happy fantasy].

    I’m not going to be very friendly to any I detect on my property or close enough to harass. This nanny-state BS needs to stop. Everyone needs to go back to minding their ********* business.

  • Sapper Squid

    Drones wouldn’t be allowed to do anything public use manned aircraft don’t already do. I don’t understand why everybody gets paranoid when you take the same capability that already exists, and package it so the operator is sitting in a ground shelter instead of a cockpit. This law doesn’t allow the government to change the rules that govern actual surveillance technqiues used and the early implementations are for light vehicles, likely used by first repsponders during emergency situtations.

  • AdamH


    Unlikely. A greater concern is what their interaction will be with small General Aviation (GA) aircraft. Currently drones don’t have the capability to see and avoid light GA planes, and they fly a low altitudes. This is the same airspace that these GA airplanes extensively use. Integrating drones in the national airspace system will be a challenge.

  • Mike Anderson
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