Welcome to Alec Baldwin’s worst nightmare. While the military’s use of drones is already the subject of heated debate, the New York Times has a preview of the next drone controversy: their use in news gathering. Several media outlets, including CNN, the Associated Press, and News Corporation, are already using the devices in situations where a helicopter would be too costly or disruptive. For the most part, news organizations are using drones for good, or at least innocuous purposes, such as providing overhead shots of the devastation in the Philippines, filming wildlife documentaries, and sports coverage. However, as the technology improves and becomes more affordable, drones used in journalism are generating new privacy concerns, as they could be used to track and photograph anyone.
There are already some reports of drones being used to tail celebrities. Recently drones were used to capture footage of Beyoncé on a Coney Island Roller Coaster and shots of Tina Turner’s wedding in Switzerland.
The FAA only allows drone manufacturers and public entities such as law enforcement to test drones, but they may loosen the restrictions to include news organizations in the next few years. First Amendment lawyer Nabiha Syed suggested that it’s unlikely that celebrities will have a permanent cluster of cameras flying over their heads. “The idea of privacy is not a new one,” she told the Times. “We have grappled with new technologies, like cellphones with cameras, before. We have a thicket of privacy law already and don’t need new laws at this stage.” For the most part, those laws haven’t prevented paparazzi from swarming on land, but perhaps there will be tighter restrictions on the use of flying objects that can fall out of the sky at any moment.