As the weekly – sometimes daily – news stories never tire of telling us, domestic drones are coming. And as ABC News reported on March 17, they are arriving faster than the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can suss out the rules over their use. Though it’s technically illegal, and the FAA may issue fines if they catch you, ABC reports that commercial use of drones is starting to happen whether or not the government approves – as long as it doesn’t notice.
In February, the FAA sent a cease and desist letter to the Lakemaid Brewing Company – the beer makers may not use drones to send ice fishermen a six-pack of cold ones. Even for such a charming purpose, their commercial use is banned at least until 2015, when the FAA will issue rules on drone integration into U.S. airspace. The FAA is also currently appealing a judge’s decision rejecting the $10,000 fine it tried to levy against a Virginia filmmaker for unauthorized drone flights. At this point, the US is actually trailing far behind the rest of the world in terms of domestic drones – we’re skittish about their dystopian potential, and our privacy laws are (relatively) strong compared to some.
As scary as drones seem, as much as something needs to be done about them before it’s too late, we have to ask whether letting the FAA shutdown overeager companies and individuals is going to solve the big problems with their use. Will making the possibility of journalism drones, firefighting drones, search-and-rescue drones more difficult magically elect government officials who can be trusted not to use them for 24/7 surveillance? Caution in legislation isn’t a bad idea, because people want to dosomething, and they may just flail in the direction of any anti-drone law suggested by dodgy politicians.