Use drones for more than spying

The use of drones is revealing one injustice after another.

At the heart of a current debate is a case involving the University of Virginia. Now that case has escalated into a First Amendment issue.

It involves an aerial photographer who was fined $1,000 for using a drone to film material for a commercial video at UVa.

An administrative law judge ruled against the Federal Aviation Administration, saying the FAA’s current policies don’t rise to the level of enforceable regulations.

The FAA has said it will issue regulations later this year. Essentially, the judge said that the FAA couldn’t already be enforcing regulations for certain drone uses when it hasn’t even promulgated them yet.

But the FAA appealed, and the case goes on.

Certainly, there should be some regulations governing what is about to become a boom industry — with potentially as many as 7,500 small commercial drones in use by 2018.

Ensuing safety is an obvious place to start.

So is protecting privacy, which has been a concern of this newspaper from the beginning. Drones could carry intrusive monitoring devices.

But they also can carry cameras for legitimate news-gathering. For instance, they are a safer way to gather traffic information than the helicopters that are used today.

And whatever rules the FAA formulates, they must be both fair on their face and then fairly enforced.

Now several media organizations have filed a brief with the National Transportation Safety Board in support of the photographer in the UVa case.

The FAA is interfering with the First Amendment, they say, because it won’t give drone permits to news-gathering organizations.

The agency is applying business rules to news-gathering groups.

One bizarre case clearly shows both the FAA’s inconsistency and its apparent bias against the media: It tried to discourage one newspaper from using a drone photograph even though the picture was taken by a hobby photographer in accordance with the agency’s own rules.

The First Amendment makes clear that the press has a unique role in protecting and promoting democracy: News agencies provide information the public needs to know about their government and stands as a watchdog against government excess and corruption.

Because of this vital function — recognized by the Founders and enshrined in the Bill of Rights — media organizations are constitutionally guaranteed the latitude necessary to pursue their calling.

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” says the amendment. And that goes, too, for agencies like the FAA established by Congress.

Source; Editorial Daily Progress


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