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NEW DRONES: BAD FOR PRIVACY? BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

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By Don Corrigan (column from the Webster-Kirkwood Times)

My friend Bill Allen at Mizzou J-School offers a course in using drones for news coverage, but use of flying drones to gather information is raising questions at every level.

CorriganvilleWould this area welcome Times Drones flying over head for photos of traffic accidents, football games, river flooding or community celebrations? Better yet, how would local residents feel about a descendant of “Crash Corrigan” manning the controls of an overhead news drone?

This technology for news seems to involve an idea whose time has come. I recently was a party to an Internet discussion with the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors (ISWNE) on the topic of where to find an affordable news drone and how to use them for reporting.

The Yuneec Q500+ seems to be a current favorite at around $1,100. It comes with its own integrated HD camera that produces both excellent video and stills. The Yuneec will not do well in the strong winds associated with spring storms in Missouri.

I am not sure I’m quite ready for a Yuneec. A friend of mine with the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), is definitely not ready for news drones. Environmentalist Wendell Berry got some ink recently when he wrote a piece on the right kind of shotgun to bring down a drone.

When Berry isn’t writing or being an environmental activist, he farms. He declared that he is concerned about rights of property and personal privacy – and would not hesitate to take out a drone over his farm.

I know some folks who fly the friendly skies for their work. They also aren’t so happy about the increasing number of drones in the sky. They point to some near-misses between passenger planes and drones around our airports. They say it’s only a matter of time before a deadly collision and an FAA crackdown on drones.

Drones are also on the radar screen now for serious movie buffs. “Eye in the Sky” is about Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) who leads a drone attack mission against terrorists in a safe house in Kenya. Powell learns the group plans to carry out a suicide attack, but her mission gets very complicated when a nine-year-old girl enters the drone kill zone.

A few faithful readers may recall when I went to Bosnia in 1997 to cover some local kids in the military in Tuzla and other exotic locations. I witnessed the first use of drones for reconnaissance and potential combat situations. I remember the drone pilots complaining they did not get the same pay as regular combat pilots.

A fascinating article in January’s Wired magazine covers this early use of military drones to where we are now with reliance on Predators in U.S. combat. Taking out the enemy with armed drones, rather than with boots on the ground, has become the preferred method of engagement.

I apologize for wandering so far from my original topic. So, are drones just a fact of life? Is it time to find a hangar for the Times news drone?

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4 responses to “NEW DRONES: BAD FOR PRIVACY? BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

  1. adam n linhardt

    This is (sorta) an issue in Key West, Fla. According to my newspaper’s research, the FAA bans the use of any drones within five miles of an airport without special approval from that organization.

    Key West is 2×4 mile island, so … that pretty much means drones are banned everywhere in town.

    Still, people love them and drone-based videos of the island from overhead keep popping up on social media. To date: I don’t know of any drone-related arrests or citations.

    The commanding officer of Naval Air Station Key West (on nearby island Boca Chica Key) made clear to media that drones were not permitted during last weekend’s air show featuring the Blue Angels demonstration squadron.

    In short: I think there’s a lot of confusion among law enforcement, city officials and the like. Not with all, but some.

    I think the jury is still very much out with drones.

    Adam Linhardt
    Key West Citizen

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  2. I am philosophically opposed to drones and could never teach journalism class on how to use them, although I can understand how they would be useful for rural newspapers covering lots of territory. I agree with writer Wendell Berry that they pose a real privacy problem. Amazon and other companies have suggested that they may be using droned for package deliveries very soon. I see no great benefit in having a Amazon book delivered in five hours versus 7 days, if it means the skies are going to be cluttered with drones. And I agree with Wendell Berry, this is an environmental issue. Drones will further disturb the balance of nature, as well as disturb already unbalanced humans.

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  3. So, it happened. On today’s front page of USA Today is a story about a drone hitting a passenger plane at Heathrow in London. The story reports an International Air Transport Association study indicating 856 drones being flown near airlines or airports. And hero pilot Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger says that he fears a catastrophic collision may be in our future.

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  4. adam n linhardt

    it’s a matter of time regarding collisions. And I agree with most of the above. (Sorta).

    There’s a popular hang-out spot for Key West locals called Boca Grande Key. It’s about 10 miles or so west of Key West. It’s federally protected given the birds and other wildlife, but the feds let people beach their boats there as long folks don’t wander inside the island and don’t litter. (It seems to me.) And folks seem to be doing well regarding self policing.

    Anyway, a fella pulled up last summer in a fishing yacht with drone buzzing overhead and people complained among themselves about it, but to be honest, I was curious. I’d never seen a nice drone before and it was interesting to watch how it behaved in the air, how it was controlled, etc …

    I kept reminding people they’re on a public beach and they have no reason to expect privacy. Same thing I tell intern photojournalists when people complain about them taking pictures on a public street.

    I think we can all mitigate a lot of the concerns about drones by requiring their operators to have some yet-to-be issued FAA license.

    On the other hand, I don’t think anyone wants to see the sky full of UPS and FedEx drones either.

    So, I’m a mixed bag on this issue.

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