Restraining orders in the age of drones

Today Joshua Goldman of CNET reports that the FAA recommends requiring drone pilots to register instead of registering every single drone: On November 21, the FAA task force made its registration recommendations, and instead of keeping track of each and every drone out there, it suggested registering the names and street addresses of the pilots (mailing address, email address, phone number and serial number of the aircraft are optional).

Drone regulation, firefighting and basic decency

Drone regulation, firefighting and basic decency

Michael Martinez, Paul Vercammen and Ben Brumfield report at CNN:

Five such “unmanned aircraft systems” prevented California firefighters from dispatching helicopters with water buckets for up to 20 minutes over a wildfire that roared Friday onto a Los Angeles area freeway that leads to Las Vegas.

This is an inappropriate use of drones, wholly lacking in basic decency. It’s not impossible, or even implausible, that a drone-related delay will some day result in the destruction of one or more homes or even get someone burned to death.

It’s not far removed from scumbaggery like the Ohio jackass who filmed the aftermath of a fatal car accident instead of helping the victims. Drone enthusiasts who want to minimize regulation already have a tough road ahead, so they would be wise to engage in some self-regulation.

Connecticut lawyer and commercial drone lobbyist Peter Sachs created the Drone Pilots Association to advocate for more commercial drone use. There is even video on his website of his using a drone to assist the volunteer fire department he works with.

The difference between sachs and the California morons is that Sachs offered his drone to the department for its use in battling a blaze. So it’s clear that drones can be a useful tool in fighting fires, they just shouldn’t be used for fire tourism when firefighters, homes and civilians are potentially in danger.

Photo of a 2008 California wildefire via Wikimedia Commons

Antitrust official inappropriately lauds Amazon’s “disruptive business model”

Antitrust official inappropriately lauds Amazon’s “disruptive business model”

DOJ antitrust head William J. Baer, speaking at a London antitrust conference:

By conspiring with Apple, which was seeking a fail-safe way to enter the market, five major publishers and Apple reached an agreement to drive the industry to an agency sales model and seize back control over and raise retail pricing of e-books. The department successfully challenged this conspiracy to quash Amazon’s disruptive business model, forcing the defendants to terminate the contractual agreements they had used to effectuate the conspiracy. Since then, Amazon’s disruptive business model has continued to stoke competition in the e-books marketplace.

That is an inappropriate way for a federal antitrust official to speak about a major market participant. Amazon did not make noise about Apple’s ebooks collusion for the good of its customers. They did it because low prices keep them on top, and because no other company is willing to bear the losses Amazon can endure, there is no end to their dominance in sight.

Apple’s attempt to raise prices in cooperation with five publishers did not end well for the Cupertino company and rightly so, but their motivations were logical. Amazon maintains low prices and therefore the illusion that they are doing customers a favor, and in the long run doing authors and publishers a favor by expanding the pool of would-be customers who can afford ebooks.

However, there is at least some truth to the concerns authors and publishers have expressed about Amazon’s dominance. The company is in a position to decide what books a large majority of book buyers can access. It’s a wise short-term strategy both business-wise and legally because it is as quiet and passive as Apple’s conspiracy was bold and aggressive. But long-term it’s likely to expose the company to regulatory inquiry at a time when Amazon is contemplating things like drone delivery, which will likely face stiffer regulation sooner than later, especially when put to retail use.

Of course based on Assistant Attorney General Baer’s comments at the Chatham House Annual Antitrust Conference, Amazon has at least one friend in a position, and a mindset, to lionize them despite questionable competition strategies.

NASA, Verizon developing tech to track drones via cell towers

DJI Phantom 1, rear (pilot) view
NASA, Verizon developing tech to track drones via cell towers

Mark Harris reports at The Guardian:

That $500,000 project is now underway at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. Nasa is planning the first tests of an air traffic control system for drones there this summer, with Verizon scheduled to introduce a concept for using cell coverage for data, navigation, surveillance and tracking of drones by 2017. The phone company hopes to finalise its technology by 2019.

This is fascinating to me because the documents obtained by The Guardian describe the purpose of the partnership as to “jointly explore if cell towers and communications could possibly support Unmannned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) for communications and surveillance of UAS at low altitudes” (emphasis added).

NASA typically focuses on altitudes so high they’re, well, in space, so why are they involved with developing low-altitutde drone tracking technology?

I want to note that I’m not necessarily opposed to someone in the government being able to keep track of all the drones that will inevitably be zipping around. I’m just not sure why NASA is involved, and I wonder whether their choice of Verizon as a partner serves as a tacit confirmation of that cellular network’s claims of coverage supremacy over its competitors.

There will be some related surveillance stories in tomorrow’s Modern Law newsletter, so sign up to get an email with five links I haven’t blogged about yet.

Image © Nevit Dilmen