Roy Exum: It’s A Drone! Cover Up!

Sunday, June 22, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

After the Los Angeles Kings won hockey’s Stanley Cup last week, some jubilant fans were celebrating in the streets when seemingly out of nowhere, a drone suddenly hovered nearby, its cameras silently taking pictures for only-who-knows. Justly alarmed, one of the revelers smacked the machine out of the air with a tee shirt and then grabbed a nearby skate board and bashed the uninvited bird to bits. Others crowded in to further stomp the buzzing beast and its on-board camera into mangled slivers.

As you think about that, consider the mother who raced up to a lifeguard at Hermosa Beach last year to complain that a similar drone was zooming in on her daughter as the girl was sunbathing on a towel in the sand. In Connecticut, another woman on an East Coast beach physically attacked a guy she said was taking pictures of her with his drone as she was enjoying the day wearing just her bikini.

Last week the National Park Service announced it wants to ban low-flying drones on the 84 million acres of land it oversees for two reasons – at Mount Rushmore recently a ranger was able to grab and confiscate a drone that flew dangerously low above visitors and, at Zion National Park in Utah, another drone buzzed a group of big-horn sheep in such a way that separated the adult sheep from the young animals that naturally scattered in terror. And don’t forget the drone that just crashed near a visitors area at the Grand Canyon, making a two-legged crowd scramble away as though under attack.

According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, there are very few rules limiting drone use by the casual hobbyist. And a quick check on Google will show you a variety of drones that can be purchased for as little as $250 or more than $5,000. All you have to have is cash – no license required. The FAA has regulations already in place for private businesses and even law enforcement organizations but – believe it or not -- there are no rules for those who fly the wildly-popular drones as a hobby.

What remains of the drone that was swatted from the air at the hockey celebration is in a plastic bag at the L.A. Police property room if anybody wants to claim it, but to fly it so low it was clobbered by a tee shirt isn’t yet a crime. Instead, according to LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, “It was an eye-opener for us that this is something we really need to pay attention to. It’s something that is going to grow enormously.”

According to the Times’ article, the FAA estimates there will be 7,500 hobbyist drones in use within five years but others believe the usage will be much higher than that. The FAA has announced it plans to have rules for hobbyist drones by 2015 but with prices already dropping on the retail market, it may be there is a need to hurry legislation. I mean, what if that was your daughter wearing suntan oil on the beach!

Daniel Saulmon, a guy who lives in Torrance, Cal., flies his drone about the South Bay area and has created a website where – get this – he allegedly posts videos that he takes remotely of police DUI checkpoints. He claims he records any arrests to monitor for abuses of power. He told the Times, “My attorney told me there isn’t really much regulation on (drones.) I don’t think it is a substitute for a hand-held camera but it’s definitely a compliment.”

Saulmon discounts any violations of privacy but an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal advocacy group for the digital business based in San Francisco, doesn’t agree. “It’s because they are so in-your-face. It’s easy to see the drone … and it’s easy to recognize the privacy implications,” said Jennifer Lynch.

Attorney Lynch believes that “Once drones become widely used in our society, there is going to be a lot of concern,” but Jeffery Olsen, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Service, has a better word. “That’s harassment – these are the kinds of things that are now going on.”

You think! Anyone with a drone and an instruction book can peek in somebody’s bathroom window and I don’t want any pictures of me getting out of the shower and then ending up in the church collection plate. No sir! I’m thinking 12-gauge shotgun or, for a longer knockdown, a 7 millimeter Remington Mag. I just don’t like my chances with a tee shirt and a skateboard.

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