FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) -- There's new technology you can use to spy on your neighbors, but that doesn't mean it's legal.
"Right now, it is illegal for a news station to collect from an unmanned aerial system digital photography and videography and use it in a news report," says Dr. Michael Holmes of Ball State University.
The FAA calls small drones "unmanned aerial systems" to help distinguish between a military aircraft and what hobbyists use as model aircraft.
But as technology advances, putting cameras on these UASes, laws governing how they're used need to catch up.
That's why Tim Pollard and Michael Holmes are formulating a journalism and telecommunications class at Ball State this fall to deal with using UASes to help establish standards of use before the FAA issues its guidelines by 2015.
"It's available to anybody now. And anybody can get what's called a GoPro, which is the very small video camera. And they can go up and they can shoot whatever they want, and within a few seconds it's on the internet. And we've got to be very careful as we go forward with this," Pollard says.
One of the big discussions here at Ball State University is how to use these unmanned aerial systems. How should they be used, when should they be used, and in what context?
"The payoff is into the quality of the storytelling that can be done. Providing visual context for stories, providing another level of richness in material. For example, imagine coverage of localized flooding, of downtown development issues and footprints of potential buildings," Holmes says.
But that always has to happen within the balance of the First Amendment and your right to privacy. The rule of thumb is if you can see it while standing on a public street, it's publicly visually available.
"We would not want, for example, someone putting up a ladder and getting up over our fence and taking a view of our backyard. But now that becomes very easy with unmanned aerial systems and possibly could be done in an unobtrusive way. And this means photojournalists and news videographers are going to have to make good ethical and legal decisions about how these capabilities are used," Holmes says.
As will people like golf course developers, sports broadcasters and realtors.
"I know a lot of the backlash is over concern over sort of police state use of these devices for surveillance. On the other hand, if you talk to law enforcement professionals and emergency management professionals, the first use that they're probably going to talk to you about is search and rescue in the event of disasters," Holmes adds.
Journalists already have to work within existing constraints of law enforcement and respect the rights of police to say this is a restricted area.
Don't be surprised to see this type of video in the coming years from TV stations and newspapers in smaller cities that normally couldn't justify the enormous expense of a helicopter. UASes cost between $300 and $10,000.
"You can only get down so far and the camera lens can only zoom in so far. Whereas if you have these little flying UASs, you have much better opportunity to get much better quality of video at a lower altitude," Pollard says.
People abusing UASes face criminal charges of trespassing and invasion of privacy.
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