AirTalk for May 15, 2012

FAA guidelines allow law enforcement to use drones with government permission

Photo by Gary Winterboer. Courtsey of Courtesy AeroVironment, Inc., www.avinc.com.

The FAA has given permission to law enforcement agencies to use small drones such as this one called the Qube. It weighs approximately five pounds, is three feet wide and has a camera installed.

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aircraft, have been used by the CIA in Pakistan and by other American military agencies elsewhere in the world. Soon, surveillance drones could fly over the skies of Los Angeles and cities across the United States.

Police, sheriff’s departments and other government public safety first responders have been given permission to fly drones that weigh up to 25 pounds, from a previously allowed 4.4 pounds, and swoop up to 400 feet in the air, according to new Federal Aviation Administration guidelines announced Monday.

These law enforcement agencies will be allowed to fly drones for training. However, agencies need to demonstrate proficiency before they are given an operational permit.

President Obama signed a reauthorization bill in February directing the FAA to hasten the process police departments must go through to operate drones. Monday’s new guidelines extend operational permits from 12 to 24 months and require the pilot handling the drone to be able to see the small aircraft, which cannot be flown within five miles of an airport.

The new guidelines also allow the federal government to grant immediate temporary permission to a first responder agency if an unmanned aircraft is being used for humanitarian or disaster relief.

Should pilot-less aircrafts, already used within the world of warfare abroad, be allowed to be used by government public safety agencies in the U.S., even within a training capacity, and especially if 25 pounds?

GUESTS

Erika Aguilar, KPCC’s crime and safety reporter

Bob Osborne, commander with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Office Homeland Security Division

Amie Stepanovich, associate litigation counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research center in Washington D.C. focusing on emerging civil liberties issues and privacy, First Amendment and constitutional values.


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