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February 10, 2014

Drones and Car Crashes in Hartford: The FAA Investigates

The use of drone technology is rapidly catching on several fronts. Whether these devices are dropping bombs or delivering Amazon packages, this new technology is being examined, considered, and even tested in certain applications. But like most new technology, there are legal issues to be considered, and the Federal Aviation Administration is finding itself increasingly in the hot seat in terms of managing these issues. One of the most recent such events is related to the use of a drone at a fatal crash scene in Hartford, Connecticut on Saturday.

The reports suggest that the drone was spotted flying above a fatal car crash, while bodies were still in the car. But where this particular drone may have been legally problematic was that the drone appeared to be packing a camera, which could have been used illicitly to snap photos of the event. At last report, the drone's operator was questioned by police, but no arrests were made in connection with the drone, but the FAA has confirmed that it is now involved in an investigation on the matter, and will need more time before it can release any results from said investigation to the public.

Hartford's attorney, Corey Brinson, offered a bit of commentary summing up the issues involved in the matter, saying: “Drones, not being helicopters, they're much smaller, can have access to aerial places that traditional helicopters and airplanes do not.” Brinson also noted the issues related to not only personal privacy but also officer safety when using drones, and summed up the whole issue nicely by saying “How do we balance this new technology? Do we allow more of an intrusion into more traditional private moments like a tragic car accident? Or do we say, 'Well, this is a new technology and the public is going to have to adapt?'”

Indeed, that's just what's going on here. FAA regulations currently both forbid drones for commercial use and, according to Hartford police, likewise forbid drones' use at crime scenes for journalism. Though the question here becomes, how does anyone prove that said drones were used for “commercial purposes” without performing illegal searches or the like? Let's assume that drone did take pictures of the car crash in question; by the time anyone gets to the drone's original launch site, the drone has likely landed, and the contents of its camera emptied. If photos appear in a newspaper or the like, can it be proven said photos were sold, making the use “commercial?” Must newspapers now vet the sources of photographs to make sure drones weren't involved? But what about issues of privacy? The drone was likely never seen; don't people involved in accidents have some say over where photos are seen?

Perhaps most of all, should we be even spending time and resources to pursue such matters in the first place? With a host of fiscal problems in progress, is the use of drones something we as a country should be investigating, or should we leave such a matter to the users? It rings somewhat less than sincere for the government to be concerned about privacy, particularly in the wake of the Edward Snowden affair.

This isn't an easy matter to get to the bottom of, and as businesses look for ways to yield profit and consider the latest technology in its pursuit, many applications will be sought, and some will likely be thrown out in the interest of the public welfare. Drones are just one more such technology to consider.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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