Calls for use of drones for news-gathering gain strength despite Big Brother concerns

By End the Lie

(Image credit: FaceMePLS/Flickr)

(Image credit: FaceMePLS/Flickr)

Once again there are calls for drones to be used for news-gathering purposes by various media organizations despite admissions that it is “kind of creepy and fraught with ‘Big Brother is Watching’ issues.”

Last year End the Lie reported on the fact that television stations may start using drones – originally marketed for military purposes – as part of their typical news-gathering equipment.

These developments really shouldn’t be shocking given the massive rise in domestic drone use over the past few years, not to mention the military’s use of domestic drones, the use of drones capable of eavesdropping by Customs and Border Protection, the use of drones by Marshals, a number of National Guard units across the country and the widespread preparation for an even greater increase in domestic drone use in the near future.

Yet it is still surprising that those promoting the use of drones by news organizations still acknowledge the massive privacy problems involved.

“There’s a part of me that finds this kind of creepy and fraught with Big Brother is Watching’ issues,” wrote Vincent Duffy, chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA).

The University of Missouri is helping push the use of drones for journalism through grants along with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Scott Pham is in charge of the website for KBIA, the public radio station at the University of Missouri,” Duffy writes. “He recently received a $25,000 technology grant from the school to develop and explore the journalistic uses of drones.”

“I’ve wanted a drone for some time, but it was mostly a joke until the IT program at [University of Missouri] expressed some interest” Pham said to Duffy.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is also looking into drone use by news organizations thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Knight Foundation for its Drone Journalism Lab.

RTDNA’s executive director, Mike Cavendar, also has promoted their use, saying they will give news stations a significant leg up over the competition.

“The ability to put a camera, if you will, high above a news event or a situation for which you want coverage, at minimal expense, when you compare it to a live, staffed helicopter, I think that’s a potentially tremendous advantage for a news station,” Cavendar told a local CBS affiliate in Philadelphia.

Cavendar maintains that the drone use by news organizations is so imminent that RTDNA will hold an event later this year to discuss the technology which Duffy called the “must-have toys” for newsrooms.

Even Duffy acknowledges that putting drones in the hands of some so-called news organizations would not be a great idea.

“While we might trust public radio journalists and academics … [could] websites that cover celebrities resist the urge to fly drones over celebrity weddings, outdoor red carpets, and beaches where starlets might be caught topless?” Duffy asks.

“Current [Federal Aviation Administration] rules require that UAS (or unmanned aircraft systems) have to be within the operator’s line of sight, have to stay under 400 feet, have to be flown during the day, and have to be away from airports,” Duffy notes, though commercial operators already ignore the FAA regulations quite often.

Even after the FAA has their new regulations in place – expected around 2015 – Duffy notes that the “ethical issues for using drones for journalism will probably be up in the air much after that.”

Despite the industry pushing the FAA to ignore privacy issues, the FAA has already had to delay the selection of cities to host drones over privacy concerns.

It will be interesting to see how these new regulations are put in place, how strictly they are enforced – if they’re enforced at all – and how news organizations end up using drones in the U.S. national airspace.

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One Response to Calls for use of drones for news-gathering gain strength despite Big Brother concerns

  1. Anonymous March 26, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    its hilarious when they admit its like big brother then turn around and say they should still use it. wow.


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