I'm usually right there siding with the media for First Ammendment rights, since I think a free press is vital to having an open and democratic society.
But I'm afraid I'm at odds with the more than a dozen news organizations who are challending the FAA ban on use of drones by journalists. I can see all sorts of problems resulting from unfettered use of news drones, ranging from safety issues to personal privacy.
First of all, there's the safety issue. Although hobbyists have been able to fly unmanned model planes for decades -- as a teen, in fact, I built and flew one with a friend -- there are strict rules regarding how high they can fly and banning them from areas near airports. And the technology many years ago limited the height and range of those model aircraft. But as drones now have the ability to fly at high altitudes and miles from the controller, they can pose serious risks to commercial and private aviation, putting those in the air and those on the ground at risk.
I also am concerned about personal privacy issues involving news drones. It's bad enough that some big celebrity weddings get stalked by news helicopters or small aircraft hired by paparazzi hoping to get that $100,000 shot. But drones, which are far less costly, can also be used to stalk everyday people who some news organization may suspect of wrongdoing. Or I can see some local stations who have "Help me Howard"-type news features using drones to stalk someone who a viewer feels has wronged him somehow.
Over-zealous news drone operators can also interfere with legitimate police and emergency operttions. It's happened with news helicopters, where they get in the way of police aircraft surveying a crime or emergency scene. Just imagine police trying to do their work while dodging dozens of small, hard-to-spot news drones buzzing around the scene. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
I can envision so many abuses of privacy and safety if news organizations have the right to put dozens of drones up in the air. Just imagine "news organizations" like TMZ having free access to drones.
One possible solution might be to grant a very limited number of licenses to legitimate news organizations to use drones for newsgathering purposes, but with very specific and clear limitations that protect privacy and safety. And solid fines should be imposed, to set an example when news drones step beyond set limits.
I know I'm going against the thinking of news organizations I admire and respect, like The New York Times, Washington Post, Gannett, Advance, Hearst and others. But until very strict rules are set, I think we should hold off on unleashing news drones into the air.