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Drones Set Sights on Skies U.S.
By NICK WINGFIELD and SOMINI SENGUPTA
“I was paying the bills with this,” said Mr. Gárate, who recently gave an unpaid demonstration of his drone in this
His career will soon get back on track. A new federal law, signed by the president on Tuesday, compels the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors — from selling real estate and dusting crops, to monitoring oil spills and wildlife, even shooting Hollywood films. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones.
But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are celebrating the opening of the skies to these unmanned aerial vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the drones will capture about lives down below — and what will be done with that information. Safety concerns like midair collisions and property damage on the ground are also an issue.
American courts have generally permitted surveillance of private property from public airspace. But scholars of privacy law expect that the likely proliferation of drones will force Americans to re-examine how much surveillance they are comfortable with.
“As privacy law stands today, you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy while out in public, nor almost anywhere visible from a public vantage,” said Ryan Calo, director of privacy and robotics at the Center for Internet and Society at
Some questions likely to come up: Can a drone flying over a house pick up heat from a lamp used to grow marijuana inside, or take pictures from outside someone’s third-floor fire escape? Can images taken from a drone be sold to a third party, and how long can they be kept?
Drone proponents say the privacy concerns are overblown. Randy McDaniel, chief deputy of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in
Still, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups are calling for new protections against what the A.C.L.U. has said could be “routine aerial surveillance of American life.”
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 new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came after intense lobbying by drone makers and potential customers.
The agency probably will not be making privacy rules for drones. Although federal law until now had prohibited drones except for recreational use or for some waiver-specific law enforcement purposes, the agency has issued only warnings, never penalties, for unauthorized uses, a spokeswoman said. The agency was reviewing the law’s language, the spokeswoman said.
For drone makers, the change in the law comes at a particularly good time. With the winding-down of the war in
“We see a huge potential market,” said Ben Gielow of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone maker trade group.
For Patrick Egan, who represents small businesses and others in his work for the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association in
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department in
Mr. McDaniel said his SWAT team could use it for reconnaissance, or to manage road traffic after a big accident. He said he regretted that he didn’t have it a few months ago, to search for a missing person in a densely wooded area.
Mr. Buscher, meanwhile, said he was negotiating with several police agencies. “There is tremendous potential,” he said. “We see agencies dipping their toes.”
The possibilities for drones appear limitless. Last year, Cy Brown of
He calls his plane the Dehogaflier, and says it saves him time wandering in the muck looking for skittish pigs. “Now you can know in 15 minutes if it’s worth going out,” said Mr. Brown, an electrical engineer.
Earlier this month, in Woodland Hills, Mr. Gárate, the photographer, demonstrated his drone by flicking a hand-held joystick and sending the $5,000 machine hovering high above a tennis court. A camera beneath the drone recorded lush, high-definition video of the surrounding property.
Bill Kerbox, a real estate agent in
Mr. Gárate, for now, plans to work mainly in his native
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs