In an effort to document the intense and widespread damage of the tornados that ripped through Arkansas this past week, storm chaser and videographer Brian Emfinger made use of a drone, flying it above the damage and rescue efforts to bring to light just how bad the damage was. Unfortunately for Emfinger, the Federal Aviation Administration may have an issue with his drone use.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is reporting that the FAA is indeed investigating the situation of Emfinger’s use of the drone (as well as other entities who made use of drones).
However, just as the video brought to life some controversy on the use of drones, the FAA’s investigation has also brought some controversy with it — specifically questions regarding the First Amendment and the agency’s ability to impose its rules over the right of freedom of press.
The potential fine could be upwards of $10,000 if any of the storm chasers or journalists who covered the storm and damage using a drone are indeed fined, but the FAA is walking on some slippery slopes if it does intend to enforce the fines. Laywer Greg McNeal writes at Forbes that “many news organizations, lawyers [...], and other drone enthusiasts would be united in opposition to the agency’s efforts to enforce non-existent rules.”
Drones are still in a legal limbo, where very few specific laws apply to drones and even more so, there’s no definite ruling on who is in charge of setting these rules. Should the FAA? Should it be dealt with as a federal law?
As more and more cases like this arise, it’s becoming more and more apparent that at least something needs to be put in place in hopes to better regulate who can fly them and where they can be flown. In the meantime, we can expect more stories of lawsuits and legal battles regarding their use.