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Government United States Technology Hardware

FAA Scans the Internet For Drone Users; Sends Cease and Desist Letters 222

An anonymous reader writes with this news from Government Attic: "The FAA has released a set of cease and desist letters sent in 2012 and 2013 to people operating drone vehicles for a variety of purposes including: tornado research, inspecting gas well stacks, aerial photography, journalism education, and other purposes. Drone cease and desist letters sent during 2014 are available from the FAA upon request." The text of the letters (bureaucratically polite, but bureaucratically firm) often starts with notes indicating to the UAV operators to whom they were sent that the FAA became interested in them because it "became aware of" their web sites, or even because someone tipped them off about an article in a community newsletter. The letters go on to outline the conditions under which the FAA allows the operation of unmanned aircraft, and specifically notes: Those who use UAS only for recreational enjoyment, operate in accordance with Advisory circular 91-57. This generally applies to operations in remotely populated areas away from airports, persons and buildings, below 400 feet Above Ground Level, and within visual line of sight. On February 6, 2007 the FAA published UAS guidance in the Federal Register, 14 CPR Part 91 / Docket No. FAA-2006-25714 I Unmanned Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System. Toward the end of the docket it says, ''The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes Its use by persons or companies for business purposes." Update: 09/07 02:16 GMT by T : Pray forgive the OCR that turned "persons" into "pecions" and "circular" into "arcular"; updated to fix those. Update: 09/08 11:07 GMT by T : Correction: Carl Malamud is not affiliated with Government Attic as this story originally described: sorry for the error.
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FAA Scans the Internet For Drone Users; Sends Cease and Desist Letters

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  • by Bruce66423 ( 1678196 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @04:19PM (#47842539)
    "This generally applies to operations in remotely populated areas" So who's doing this populating remotely? We have a right to know...
    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @05:43PM (#47842883) Homepage

      You should see all of the discarded and abandoned remotes out here in the Alaskan bush. Hundreds of thousands of them scurrying around looking for AAA batteries and an IR beam. It's really sad.

      What that has to do with UAVs isn't clear.

    • So who's doing this populating remotely?

      sperm donors. I have fathered 12 children from across the world.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Well - if FAA goes after those doing tornado research they are essentially just getting bad publicity. It seems to me that they essentially just try to shoot down every operation that is competing with the paperwork path of the FAA.

      Better set up a new set of rules instead, since as long as you operate it for other than private use but use it in a way that doesn't invade privacy or on your own property then I don't see a problem with using a drone (which is a RC model anyway.)

  • I, for one, welcome our new pecion overlords. I'd also welcome some better OCR software.

  • Is the government worried it has competition for "spying"?

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @05:09PM (#47842759)

      Is the government worried it has competition for "spying"?

      No, that is not the main concern. The number of people on food stamps and SSDI has tripled in the past decade, creating lots of new jobs for welfare administrators. Private citizens that engage in productive, income generating activity, are a threat to those jobs, so the government is trying to put a stop to it. Using a drone for a hobby is okay. But using a drone to start a business and support your family, is not. If we allow that, it will soon spiral out of control, with the businesses growing, offering more services, hiring more people, including office staff, IT people, accountants, janitors, etc. If we are not careful, pretty soon everyone that wants a job, will have one.

    • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday September 07, 2014 @11:57AM (#47846327)
      Just this year, a Federal judge ruled that the FAA has no authority to regulate drones outside of navigable airways. (Which are clearly specified on aviation charts.)

      It doesn't matter whether the use is commercial. [vice.com]

      The FAA has appealed the ruling, but since the judge appears to have ruled on solid Constitutional grounds, I doubt very much they'll win the appeal.

      It's just a fact: FAA doesn't have jurisdiction over everything in the air. All of their authority is based on the Federal ability to regulate manned interstate airplane flight.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    What, exactly, is controversial about this? The FAA is responsible for the safety of aviation, and a lot of corporations are deliberately, flagrantly breaking the law. Sounds like a good idea that the FAA enforce the law.

    • by tepples ( 727027 ) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Saturday September 06, 2014 @04:38PM (#47842613) Homepage Journal
      The complaint, as I understand it, is not that the FAA is enforcing the law on the books but that this law is not useful.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The law itself is bad -- It's crushing innovation that would otherwise create a whole new dynamic part of the economy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Apparently, there are forces at work that do not want the US economy to do well...

      • If you mean the litigation industry that will be needed to handle all the cases related to privacy, personal injury/property damage, trespassing, etc then yes it is suppressing an industry. A few drones in an area is not a problem but hundreds of drones from different companies will be a problem. The FAA hasn't figured out how to deal with that yet.

      • That's right! We're all waiting for that literal windfall of UAV pieces (peicions?) dropping out of the sky. A DIY'er dream come true.

      • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @07:54PM (#47843357)

        The law itself is bad -- It's crushing innovation that would otherwise create a whole new dynamic part of the economy.

        There are issues that need to be ironed out. Unless you like the idea of a drone accidentally slicing your head off while in the pursuit of capital.

        Can drones be used to monitor people ala a unmanned private detective?

        Can a drone go on fishing expeditions, running up and down looking through windows?

        What is the liability if a police drone accidentally slices your head off?

        What is the liability if a private detective's drone accidentally slices your head off?

        Same with a drone crashing into your house and lighting it on fire.

        Same with you accidentally crushing a police Drone. Have you committed a crime?

        and on and on.

        It isn't all a privacy issue though. It might be looked at as similar to the old dreams of everyone flying instead of using cars. It could obviously be done, but most people just aren't capable of doing it without killing half of everyone else. Even a small drone can wreak nasty injuries.

        The things are cheap, have been proliferating, and there needs to be some guidelines. The free market settling this thing would look a lot like a war of attrition, as incompetents get weeded out, often by killing innocent people. Nah, maybe we can give it some thought?

        Ther are going to be some awesome uses for drones. But we gotta have some ground rules.

        • While these issues may still need to be ironed out, they really are not within the purview of the FAA. The FAA's only real interest with drones should be keeping the skies orderly and safe. Privacy issues and liability are the legislative, not bureaucratic, problems.
          • While these issues may still need to be ironed out, they really are not within the purview of the FAA. The FAA's only real interest with drones should be keeping the skies orderly and safe. Privacy issues and liability are the legislative, not bureaucratic, problems.

            Agreed on the privacy issues. I also commented on the safety issues too. I mean, getting one's head cut off is kind of a safety issue, yes no?

            • I was under the impression the FAA was pretty clear about their stance regarding aircraft safety, and it basically amounts to, "Commercial aircraft must be certified. We don't currently have a certification process for UAVs. We will have one by sometime in 2015. Hobbyists, don't make a nuisance of yourselves and we won't bother you."
        • by rossdee ( 243626 )

          "Can a drone go on fishing expeditions,"

          I would think they would scare away the fish. And in the winter how are they going to cut holes in the ice?

          " running up and down looking through windows?"

          You could always run Linux

          • "Can a drone go on fishing expeditions,"

            I would think they would scare away the fish. And in the winter how are they going to cut holes in the ice?

            " running up and down looking through windows?"

            You could always run Linux

            Cymbal Crash!

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Because they are spending tax money to threaten people based on the meaningless distinction between recreational drone use and drone use for a commercial purpose. They shouldn't waste the money and they shouldn't threaten people needlessly.

      • Awww ,,, lighten up. It's not that serious. They are just enforcing the law.

        • by Kohath ( 38547 )

          Threatening people unnecessarily is evil -- law or no law.

          • OK, so speeding is against the law. If you are stopped for speeding and the cop issues a warning ticket, it's evil - law or no law?

    • What is controversial is that there is in fact NO law and NO regulations applicable to remote controlled model "aircraft.". The FAA is using scare tactics in asserting there is law on this when in fact there is not.

      • That's not true at all. There are a number of laws regulating model aircraft. And the community has managed to stay within the FAA's good graces by (generally) not pushing the limits or rubbing any painful little areas on the FAA's corporate skin. Model rocketry has been the same and it seems to be rather similar to the FCC's relationship with Amateur radio. Play nice, work under the radar, be happy with what we give you. Don't make pests out of yourselves.

        But allowing commercial use opens up whole new

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        There is law and precedent for the FAA's regulation of aircraft. The 'model', 'drone' or 'unpiloted' distinction is something that hobbyists and the FAA informally agreed upon in order to facilitate the hobby. Tread carefully here, because the decision might be to remove the "remote control" distinction and regulate model aircraft with the same regs that apply to piloted ones.

        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          There is law and precedent for the FAA's regulation of aircraft. The 'model', 'drone' or 'unpiloted' distinction is something that hobbyists and the FAA informally agreed upon in order to facilitate the hobby.

          The law says that the FAA is allowed to regulate aircraft. The FAA has specifically excluded unmanned aircraft from its regulations so far. That is, there is no law or regulation on the books that pertains to unmanned aircraft.

          If that is untrue, you can supply a citation to a single law or regulation which contradicts what I just said above. Please note that I'm not interested in advisory circulars, cease and desist letters, or press releases. I'm interested in laws and regulations - published in accord

          • not to mention the trying to define the drone as "aircraft" in the first place when the generally accepted definition is *plane*.

    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      The problem is that the FAA is trying to exert influence into an area where it has no authority. This is a good intro to the controversy: http://www.npr.org/blogs/money... [npr.org]

    • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @08:22PM (#47843479) Journal

      What, exactly, is controversial about this? The FAA is responsible for the safety of aviation, and a lot of corporations are deliberately, flagrantly breaking the law. Sounds like a good idea that the FAA enforce the law.

      The FAA tried [slashdot.org] to fine one commercial aerial photographer for "deliberately, flagrantly" breaking this law. They lost in court. Not, mind you, a judicial determination: they lost in their own administrative court, where one of their own administrative judges ruled they did not have the authority to regulate these aircraft.

      Legally, nothing has changed since then, though appeals are still in progress. The FAA, thus, is attempting to assert an authority that at the present time, they have been told by their own courts that they do not have.

      That's what's controversial.

      • Agreed, I'm not convinced they have any legal authority here. But it costs time and money to fight them.

        It is very rare for the administrative courts to rule against the FAA. It now goes up the food chain, it will be interesting to see where it goes.

    • In America, if the law were enforced everyone would be in jail. This probably means that most of the laws are in fact terrible and should be repealed. I suspect that the primary purpose of those laws are so that annoying people can always be jailed for some reason or another. Either that or the bureaucrats are incompetent at updating obsolete laws and passing new ones.

      Either way, in the long run people are likely to find that it is not only cheaper, but also safer, to deliver a package via a 5 pound drone r

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @04:33PM (#47842583)

    On the one hand, UAV's represent a potential danger to people on the ground, and to airplanes - not to mention the privacy implications.

    On the other hand, (if my understanding is correct), military and law enforcement agencies are free to fly UAV's whenever and wherever they please. This represents a further un-levelling of the playing field - the government is steadily acquiring powers which make it impossible for citizens to control/hold responsible/overthrow their own elected leaders.

    I honestly don't know the answer - I only know that it both scares me and pisses me off that the government can do whatever it wants with UAV's, while my ability to use them is very, very restricted.

    • by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @05:03PM (#47842731)

      On the other hand, (if my understanding is correct), military and law enforcement agencies are free to fly UAV's whenever and wherever they please.

      That is not true. The FAA issues a certificate of authorization for valid use of drones. Here [google.com] is a map of authorized drone use in the US. Click on the dots and you will see that their areas of operation are quite restricted. The issue is that commercial aircraft require a COA and the FAA has yet to certify drones for commercial use.

    • Do you feel that way about, say, grenades and stuff?

      • by dbc ( 135354 )

        There are only two answers to your question: "Yes" and "Baaaaaa"

      • Do you feel that way about, say, grenades and stuff?

        Oh God, don't go there, People defending the right of 70 pound gilrs to blow the head off of range instructors with automatic pistols on "Guns and God" vacations will ge really pissed now.

        • Do you feel that way about, say, grenades and stuff?

          Oh God, don't go there, People defending the right of 70 pound gilrs to blow the head off of range instructors with automatic pistols on "Guns and God" vacations will ge really pissed now.

          Amen, girls should weigh at least 75 pounds to blow the heads off range instructors, write your congressmen!

      • Good question - in the heat of the moment when I posted I didn't think of it. I'm not sure I can give an accurate, or even a final, answer to it right now. But the following points occur to me:

        - It's easy to make a grenade and have some confidence that it will work; no testing is required, so the fact that one is breaking the law needn't be obvious. Not so with UAV's.
        - One can practise grenade-throwing by throwing a baseball; becoming a competent UAV controller requires a lot of practice with a real UAV un

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      It both scares me and pisses me of that the government can do whatever it wants with nuclear weapons, while my ability to use them is very, very restricted.

      Who do they think they are, claiming the right to use things that the general public can't? Let me use my nuclear weapons!

      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        Because a 2 pound drone can cause as much damage as a 25 kiloton atomic warhead!
      • Another good point - thanks. I guess what it comes down to is what nurb432 said:

        I only know that it both scares me and pisses me off that the government can do whatever it wants

        Would be a more accurate statement.

        Once upon a time, I basically trusted the government to at least try to do the right thing. They were often fuckups, and occasionally larcenous or downright evil, but I never had the constant feeling I have now, that they are the enemy. So at one time I was relatively happy to let them take care of such matters; now I don't trust them as far as I can throw them.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 )

    Let's confuse them.

    Form an "Association of fake drone operators"

    Request some volunteers who operated drones in the past or in the future to donate some unidentifiable footage to use as "Stock drone operator" photographs and videos.

    Publish hundreds of thousands of websites for the FAA to look at.

    Provide a number of stock "bullshit" explanations of how the drone is being used that would violate all the FAA's supposed rules. Claim being used for rescue, research. Talk about how you received $100 for r

    • by silfen ( 3720385 )

      At best, they'll just hire a thousand new "drone inspectors" to deal with the increased volume, burdening your and my taxes with it.

      Or they might simply drag you into court and have you prove that you're a fake operator; then, they might stick you with court costs for frivolously misleading the government.

    • And call 911 while you are at it.

  • maybe they'll be cheap enough for a one-time use. just like "burner" cellphones.
  • taping a phone to a helicopter isn't illegal.
  • Here is the real quote [governmentattic.org];

    The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes Its use by persons or companies for business purposes."

    The funny thing is that when I coped the first instance of the quote from the site I get "pecoins" and had to change it to "persons". It looks like the OCR screwed up.

    • It looks like the OCR screwed up.

      It's not so bad that the OCR screwed up; programs do that once in a while. The big problem is that nobody bothered to proofread the output to catch any glitches. And it's not just a one-time thing. I've bought a few ebooks that are scanned and OCR'd versions of dead-tree books and so far, not one of them's been proofread. The problem here isn't that OCR isn't perfect, it's that the people using it think that it is.
  • by silfen ( 3720385 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @05:11PM (#47842771)

    This isn't about the FAA protecting you from drone flights. Right now, you're well protected from drone flights over your private land because the airspace over your land is yours, up to the lower limit of flight space, generally 500-1000ft above the tallest structures.

    With these actions, the FAA is effectively trying to gain the power to regulate airspace that previously was either entirely private (over private land) or entirely public (over public land).

    In part, that will likely mean actually allowing commercial drone operators to fly over your land at heights where they currently can't fly. Whether that's their intent right now or not doesn't matter; lobbying down the road will force that to happen. So, far from protecting you from drones, this is likely a prelude to be able to force you to let drones pass at low altitude over your property.

    • In the US you do not have property rights from ground up to navigable airspace. Your rights [wikipedia.org] stop much lower than that;

      The law, in balancing the public interest in using the airspace for air navigation against the landowner's rights, declared that a landowner owns only so much of the airspace above their property as they may reasonably use in connection with their enjoyment of the underlying land. In other words, a person's real property ownership includes a reasonable amount of the airspace above the property. A landowner can't arbitrarily try to prevent aircraft from overflying their land by erecting "spite poles," for example. But, a landowner may make any legitimate use of their property that they want, even if it interferes with aircraft overflying the land.

      • Given that permission is given is to ' own only so much of the airspace above their property as they may reasonably use in connection with their enjoyment of the underlying land.', taking steps to prevent noise on your property to ensure your enjoyment of it seems a reasonable use...
        • Did you read the whole quote?

          A landowner can't arbitrarily try to prevent aircraft from overflying their land by erecting "spite poles," for example.

          Your definition of "reasonable use" seems to differ from the court's. The operative word is "use". Denying someone else "use" is not "use" in itself. By "use" the court is talking about building structures.

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          taking steps to prevent noise on your property to ensure your enjoyment of it seems a reasonable use...

          Perhaps. As long as those steps are taken uniformly. You probably can't complain about drones that make less noise then your neighbor's leaf blower if you don't complain about that as well.

      • by silfen ( 3720385 )

        I don't see why you think that contradicts what I said. Minimum safe altitude according to the FAA for airplanes is 500-1000ft. Therefore, currently, for anything below that altitude, there is no "balancing" required, since the property owner currently won't interfere with any "air navigation". But once drones are treated like other aircraft, you will all of a sudden have to accommodate them at lower altitudes over your property.

        That is a big change. Whether the FAA can get away with it legally or not is no

    • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Saturday September 06, 2014 @07:16PM (#47843235)

      Right now, you're well protected from drone flights over your private land because the airspace over your land is yours, up to the lower limit of flight space, generally 500-1000ft above the tallest structures.

      That actually isn't true...

      Few properties actually own any "air rights". They exist, but are less common than you think. Also, most "air rights" have more to do with the blocking of the view from other properties, than they have to do with aviation or flying.

      There is no "lower limit" of flight space, Class B, C, D, E or G airspace goes all the way to the ground, everywhere in the USA.

      Where I live, we're in the DFW Class B airspace, starting from 1 foot going up to 10,000 feet MSL (above Mean Sea Level).

      Now, that being said, that doesn't mean you're breaking the law standing on your roof, or putting up a TV antenna... such things are understood by the law to be reasonable uses of your home and property.

      You cannot generally put up anything taller than 200ft without a permit (and if you do, they'll make you take it down if it can't be permitted). It also has to be lit with a flashing red light at night and marked on the various aviation charts.

      This is why Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World is just under 200ft tall, so they didn't have to put a big red light on the top.

      - more than 10 years of professional aviation experience speaking, certified flight instructor in both airplanes and helicopters, more than 4,000 hours flown, more than 1,000 hours of instruction given

      TL,DR - In short, most people think they have more rights than they really do when it comes to their properties, above and below them...

    • In part, that will likely mean actually allowing commercial drone operators to fly over your land at heights where they currently can't fly. Whether that's their intent right now or not doesn't matter; lobbying down the road will force that to happen. So, far from protecting you from drones, this is likely a prelude to be able to force you to let drones pass at low altitude over your property.

      Let them try it. If I just happen to be flying my personal RC airplane at the time and the two should collide, oh

  • Not help the general public in any way.

  • Actually seem to think they can stop technology that anyone can build in their garage.

    Next they'll be trying to claim that I can't use my flying car as a taxi.

  • Johnny Drone Hunter [youtube.com] will save us. We don't need no stinking FAA letters!

  • I am frequently found wondering about the pace of tech and the abilities it gives us being up against the speed of government, a large organization not known for speed. Designer drugs, fracking, UAVs, etc etc etc... It seems like it you move fast enough you can get away with a lot before anyone notices what you're up to. :D

    This is not always a good thing, but... it is interesting.

  • And what exactly is the legal basis for the FAA's denying commercial operation of "drones"? I don't mean the arbitrarily created regulations that they're quoting but the actual LAW passed by congress and the president? I have a sneaking suspicion that its some vague "ensuring public/air safety" law that they are stretching WAY past its original intent. Something on the order of a hypothetical USDA law to "ensure commercial food safety" being used outlaw all roadside vegetable stands.

    • And what exactly is the legal basis for the FAA's denying commercial operation of "drones"?

      You've got it backwards. The FAA would be banning ALL such activity if it could. But congress passed a low telling them it was hands off for the hobby crowd. The FAA is currently being taken to court over their recently published "interpretation" of that law, implying that a whole bunch of hobby RC activity (like, flying while using video linked goggles) is reasonably banned. If congress hadn't explicitly carved out a niche for hobbyists, it would already be all over.

      The Obama administration has already

  • The FAA: Keeping the airspace around tornados safe for the public since 2013.

  • In the near future those cease and desist letters will be sent via drones.

  • Instead of finding a solution for the problem (drone crashes and public safety) they just remove the problem. Cut off your leg to fix your broken toe.

What sin has not been committed in the name of efficiency?

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