The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 25, 2014

Privacy fears at heart of drone debate

LOS ANGELES — Some Los Angeles Kings fans were celebrating the team’s Stanley Cup win outside the Staples Center a couple weeks ago when they noticed a Phantom-model quadcopter drone buzzing above, surveying the scene.

Angry at the intrusion, they knocked it down using a T-shirt and smashed it into bits with a skateboard.

What remains of the drone is sitting in a Los Angeles Police Department property room, waiting for its owner to claim it. If the owner steps forward, police will give him back his drone but do little else. Flying a drone in public is not illegal, police concluded.

“It was kind of an eye-opener for us that this is something we really need to pay attention to,” said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith about the drone outside the Kings game. “It’s certainly something that’s growing enormously.”

Drone use is becoming an issue as the unmanned aircraft become more popular, especially as a way for hobbyists to create videos. YouTube is filled with drone videos taking in the views of Yosemite, prompting rangers last month to issue a public notice saying the machines are banned. At the Grand Canyon recently, a drone crashed, stunning visitors who were there to take in the sunset.

On Friday, the National Parks Service announced that it intended to ban low-flying drones on the 84 million acres of land it manages, citing concerns about visitor safety and the impact on wildlife.

Other drone-filmed videos are also popping up that show sporting events, local beaches and even DUI checkpoints.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration has a host of regulations about how private businesses and law enforcement can use drones, there are few rules covering the casual hobbyist.

A ruling by a federal oversight committee in March further complicated regulation. The National Transportation Safety Board’s Office of Administrative Law Judges found in favor of a pilot who was issued a $10,000 citation for flying a drone over the University of Virginia as part of a photography project. The FAA is appealing the ruling.

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