Drone Beat: A Secret Memo, the First Amendment and 8 More Drone Updates


The U.S. government uses them to bomb alleged terrorists in far-away places. Tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook are all toying with the idea of using them, and now they're a photographer's secret weapon. Drones are a big part of our lives, whether we see them or not. Drone Beat collects the best and most important stories every week.

Drone Beat's coverage areas this week

White House agrees to show drone killing memo to senators — but still not the citizens

The Obama administration will show senators the controversial memo that details the legal justification behind the killing of an American citizen, White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed on Tuesday.
The White House hopes this move will convince senators to confirm the nomination of David Barron, currently a Harvard Law School professor, as the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Some senators, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), have threatened to hold up his nomination demanding the public release of the memo.
In 2010, when he was the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, Barron authored the still-secret drone memo that authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American cleric who allegedly became a prominent Al-Qaeda spokesperson, leading the U.S. government to order a drone strike to take him out.
But despite the White House offer, Paul is reportedly not satisfied.

In April, a federal appeals court ordered the government to release the memo to the public, but the White House still has to do so.
This isn't the first time Paul has threatened to block a nomination because of drone strikes. Last year, the libertarian senator talked for around 13 hours to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director. The Senate eventually confirmed Brennan.

Major news companies say drone journalism is a First Amendment right

A coalition of major news companies, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the Tribune Corporation filed a brief in court saying drone journalism should have more protection than other drone activities, and should be considered a First Amendment right.
The coalition filed an amicus brief in support of Raphael Pirker, the first drone pilot to be fined by the Federal Aviation Administration. In March, a judge overthrew the fine in what many considered a ruling that indirectly paved the way for the commercial use of drones in the United States. But the FAA has appealed the decision.
Pirker is the founder of Team BlackSheep, a video-recording company that uses drones in its filming process. See Mashable's mini-documentary on Pirker and his legal case below.

UPS delivers drone parts to random guy by mistake

Mailmen sometimes make mistakes. You might order a TV on Amazon and end up with an assault rifle. Or in the case of one New York student, you might get parts of a $400,000 government drone.
Reddit user Seventy_Seven mistakenly received a package containing parts of a wildlife-monitoring Puma UAV on Monday. The drone belongs to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), but UPS confirmed that they delivered it to the student by mistake — although it's still unclear exactly what happened.
The drone, however, presumably made it back to NOAA after Motherboard reporter Jason Koebler played the role of the intermediary and helped the student return it to UPS.
The student said that "in retrospect," he was "an idiot" to post about the delivery since his post blew up online and "the shitstorm ensued."
"I was getting tons of messages telling me that I'm an idiot, that they want to buy it off of me, that they are from the NOAA or UPS and want to contact me, and that I'd be getting assassinated in the next hour," he told VICE.

Drone footage shows devastating aftermath of tornado in Mississippi

A video that filmmaking company DSLR Pros shot with a drone shows the aftermath left by a tornado in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Louisiana won't have its own anti-drone law

A Louisiana house committee voted on Tuesday against an anti-drone law, the DRONE Act, which sought to prohibit drone operators from using UAVs to take pictures on private property and publish them. Several states — including Florida, Virginia, Illinois and Indiana — have passed laws regulating the use of drones, mostly by law enforcement agencies, according to a list curated by the American Civil Liberties Union.

FAA opens drone test site in Alaska

The Alaska drone test site, one of the six designated by the the Federal Aviation Administration across the United States, is now operational, according to an FAA press release. The agency granted the University of Alaska a so-called Certificate of Authorization (COA), the FAA's special permission to use drones, for two years. The University of Alaska test site is the second one to open. North Dakota's site became operational on April 21.

No more drones at Yosemite

Yosemite National Park officials have outlawed drones inside the park, justifying their decision using a federal rule not directly related to unmanned aircraft. Using drones at Yosemite is now illegal, and that includes flying robots of "all shapes and sizes," according to park officials.

When is a drone a drone?

The discussion about the word "drone" has always been a heated one. Some industry insiders believe it's inaccurate — and damaging — to call every kind of flying robot a drone, a word that people normally associate with large, armed, military drones that operate in Yemen or Pakistan, killing alleged terrorists. "Just Don't Call It a Drone" read a New York Times headline last year; Fast Company delved into the controversy with a piece titled "How Did 'Drone' Become Such A Dirty Word?"
Perhaps to address this discussion, which — let's admit — at the end of the day doesn't change anything, people will keep calling them drones because that's the easiest, most common term for them. (UAVs is just not as sexy, sorry.) Someone even created a T-shirt evoking The Treachery of Images, a famous painting by Magritte that featured a pipe and a phrase that said: "ceci n'est pas une pipe" (this is not a pipe).

The T-shirt is for sale online for $24.99.

Railroad company considering drones to inspect train bridges

The Union Pacific Corporation, the parent company of Union Pacific Railroad, is considering using drones to inspect its 400 miles of bridges, CEO Jack Koraleski told Bloomberg. Around the world, some companies are already using drones to inspect hard-to-reach structures like power lines.

EasyJet wants to use drones to inspect its planes

Airline company EasyJet is also looking to use drones to inspect its fleet of Airbus aircrafts. The company plans to start using them for trials in the next few months and introduce them officially as early as next year.

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