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J-Schools Hold Up Mirror To Current Domestic Drone Policy, Teach Use Of Tiny Devices To Gather News

March 25, 2013 by  

J-Schools Hold Up Mirror To Current Domestic Drone Policy, Teach Use Of Tiny Devices To Gather News

If the Feds can use drones to watch what’s going on, so can everybody else.

That’s essentially the thinking that lies behind a recent surge in new coursework at a handful of journalism schools, where future reporters are learning how to use observation drones to get close to events in a way an individual often can’t.

Under the present iteration of the FAA Reauthorization Act, it’s illegal for commercial entities (well, at least those without a defense contract) to fly drones until 2015. But public universities such as the University of Nebraska and the University of Missouri don’t fall under that restriction. These and other universities engage drone technology across several of their academic departments — mostly those dealing in applied sciences, but journalism is starting to get in on the action.

At the University of Missouri’s prestigious journalism school, students and faculty describe potential news-gathering uses for drone technology in pretty benign terms. One of the Missouri professors keeps his comments on how the media can use drone tech pretty far on this side of the invisible line that, doubtless, the current President and the Department of Justice are carefully waiting for someone to test on 1st Amendment grounds.

“We have a class here of journalism students who are learning to fly J-bots, for journalism robots, or drones,” Professor William Allen told ABC News. “So they learn to fly them, and also do what reporters do: brainstorm ideas, go out and do reporting, do drone based photography and video. We’re trying to see if this is going to be useful for journalism.”

He knows it will be useful for journalism, if lawmakers don’t snatch away the ability for media (or any inquisitive citizen) to begin employing drones in similar watchful fashion as law enforcement already is doing.

The question, though, is whether lawmakers will let it happen. Can Congress treat domestic drone policy with the fair play required to preserve Americans’ rights to keep pace with what it allows the executive branch to get away with?

Remarkably, Congressional talk (in these post-Rand-Paul-filibuster days) over where America’s domestic drone policy is heading has tended toward bipartisan concern over how the coming proliferation of drones threatens to infringe citizens’ Constitutional liberties. The Senate Judiciary Committee discussed domestic drones’ future Wednesday, with Republican and Democratic Senators (including Dianne Feinstein) alike voicing their skepticism that drones and individual liberty can easily coexist.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed resignedly accommodating of all forms of Orwellian surveillance when he asked a local radio audience on Friday: “It’s scary, but what’s the difference whether the drone is up in the air or on the building? I mean, intellectually, I’d have trouble making the distinction.”

Access and mobility for starters, moron: That’s, intellectually, the distinction. Drones can follow you. Some of them can do far, far more than watch you.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to coax an updated list of entities presently authorized to maintain and use drones. An interactive map describing each location can be accessed here; it is current through October of last year. Under present laws, it’s of course filled with public entities of various kinds.

Here’s hoping it either disappears entirely (not likely) or becomes a bit more balanced, once Federal Aviation Administration guidelines have been revised.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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  • Vicki

    While they are trying to decide who gets to fly go to google and search “quadcopter” and you will get a LOT of links showing you how YOU can have your very own drone right now. The cost is actually quite reasonable. anywhere from $50-$400 and up.

    They are fun to fly and the ones starting at about $120 include high quality video cameras.

    Here is one of the really good ones.
    Uses iPad or Android to control and feeds live video to the control for eyes on flight.

    • meteorlady

      As an ex-RC enthusiast, these items can fly a limited distance from their radio controlled device and then the operator looses control and the crash. The government on the other hand, has drones that are not RC controlled. They are remotely controlled via high tech which most of your $50 to $400 or more devices don’t have.

  • Vigilant

    “Drones can follow you. Some of them can do far, far more than watch you.”

    Drones don’t kill people, people kill people.

    • Hedgehog

      True enough Vigilant, drones don’t kill people, just as guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But people can kill drones, only politicians can kill guns. Now, to kill a drone in the air you are going to have to know deflection shooting, like in skeet, and you will need a semi or full automatic firearm with a high capacity magazine! I think you can see where I’m going. I could run this out to its logical conclusion, but I won’t. I haven’t had my morning coffee yet.

      • Vicki

        Unlike guns, drones are animate objects. They even have AI so yes they could kill people. It would HAVE to be under programmed orders of people though. If the military finds them useful than individual Americans can not be barred from having them as well.

  • Vigilant

    “…the current President and the Department of Justice are carefully waiting for someone to test on 1st Amendment grounds.”

    Try again. It’s not a First Amendment issue, it’s a Fourth Amendment issue. Freedom of the press does not allow journalists to conduct warrantless searches, break and enter, rifle through your papers, or become a peeping Tom outside of Heather’s bedroom window at night.

    The cat has been out of the bag for some time now, in case you haven’t noticed. Satellites have been watching, Channel X News helicopters have been watching, millions of private and municipal surveillance cameras have been watching, and soon your home appliances will be watching.

    Your e-mails and telephone calls are monitored, your movements are monitored via your cell phone or automobile, and your comments on this website are screened for buzz words.

    So what’s the big deal? We gave up our privacy a long time ago with barely a whimper.

    • STEVE E.

      What do journalist need drones for? They don’t report the news now.

      • meteorlady

        They aren’t journalists. They are media hacks that “read” whatever they are supposed to. Bob Woodward just found out how you are treated if you print the truth or go against the current government. White House reporters have been yelled at and threatened with not being allowed inside if they go against our current government.

        George Soros has bought a lot of media outlets which should have not been allowed since we deserve voices, not a voice.

  • Right Brain Thinker

    I can see it now. Six pages of paperwork and a background check before you can buy a $59.95 R/C airplane at Toys’R’Us—-just because you can duct-tape a small camera to it and take pictures of your nude sunbather neighbor. It’s a crazy world.

    • rendarsmith

      For once, you and I agree.

  • Wellarmed

    The potential to violate others privacy with this technology are limitless, and I agree with Vigilant wholeheartedly that we as a nation gave up our duty to protect our privacy along time ago.

    Good news is that I still have a bolt action magazine fed shotgun with a 5 foot long barrel that will give me great joy with this new found technology. I think it is time to fill some hellium balloons and get the range finder out to see what the limits to this old goose gun really are?

    Does anyone besides me feel that this technology is going to be deployed at some point against the Citizenry? Or am I just being overly reactive to what I view as a hostile threat?

  • Mr.Pete

    I think there’s a market niche to exploit here. Time for some UAV interceptors! Tell you what, the first time I am harassed by a UAV while out hunting (and don’t for one minute think that PITA is not all over this like flies on ….), I will summarily shoot it down.


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