FAA rule on registering drones effective today

Effective today, December 21, 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires owner registration of drones.

I am in favor.

The registry should be public, just for cases such as my own, cases where criminal activity is masked as a civil dispute. If those objecting to a public registry do not get their way, I hope to be able to search the database not only for drone owners by name, but by locale and industry. As the victim of a real estate mobbing, I would be particularly interested in those around me who may own drones, or those developers and real estate investors and speculators working in my neighborhood who do.

I am also in favor of the penalties proposed for failure to register the aircraft, apparently thousands of dollars and, in certain circumstances, jail time. (Most drone owners will need to register next week or risk penalties, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2015/12/14/most-drone-owners-will-need-to-register-next-week-or-risk-penalties/.)

The FAA rule requires registration of “small unmanned aircraft,” a class of flying machines with weights falling into the range of 0.55 pounds (250 grams) to less than 55 pounds (approximately 25 kilograms). This move towards regulation comes after rising concern over “peeping tom” drones as well as increasing brushes between rogue unmanned aircraft and commercial aviation. The Washington Post cites an FAA estimate by pilots of more than 100 drone sightings and other incidents every month. The small aircraft have become not only a nuisance, but a danger.

DRONELIFE.com, an online magazine that promotes the use of drones, attributed headlines, including one of their own issue, claiming more than 1,000,000 drones had been sold for Christmas as a reason for the FAA’s imposition of a registration process. See 1 Million Drones Will Be Sold This Christmas, and the FAA Is Terrified (http://dronelife.com/2015/09/29/1-million-drones-will-be-sold-this-christmas-and-the-faa-is-terrified/).

Rich Swayze of the FAA remarks that “A lot of people who don’t have a pilot background are operating these things in the airspace.” The FAA’s position is that controlling a drone makes you a pilot and that regulation is, therefore, appropriate. Challenges to the new law include privacy as well as lack of FAA jurisdiction.

Over the course of the mobbing, I’ve twice seen drones in my neighborhood. One time, a man in a classic Cadillac seemed to be trying out a drone from the driveway of a newly built house across from me. This was the house owned by the builder who referred to me, I’m told, as “just a renter” the day he put an offer on my home. That offer was turned down six months before the constant stalking and monitoring began that I’ve come to know and document as “real estate mobbing.” Another time, when I descended the hill that leads from my home to the Burke-Gilman bicycle trail, a drone hovered over the spot where I begin my ride.

The mobbing was ongoing when I saw the drones and their position was meaningful to me considering what had already been going on around me and the people who were involved. The owner of the mobbing house on one side of me is apparently a licensed pilot; the owner of the mobbing house on the other side of me once explained his chosen profession to me as the result of being “good” at science in school. Houses were already being razed and rebuilt up and down the street; lots cleared of trees and replaced with upscale homes reaching the one million dollar mark. The terrain is steep in this northeastern Seattle neighborhood overlooking Lake Washington, and it made sense that developers would use drones to survey building sites. That developers and real estate speculators might use the same drones to keep watch on the properties they wanted to acquire, and the residents within them, seems an efficient way to make an asset do double-duty and increase return on investment. See the real estate section of DRONELIFE.com for articles on how to sell a house, manage a property, or even supervise a construction site with a drone (http://dronelife.com/applications/real-estate/). You can find an article detailing how drone photography is “changing the face of real estate” (http://dronelife.com/2015/06/03/drone-photography-changing-the-face-of-real-estate/). The independent seller may want to consider the article 3 Reasons You Should Hire a Drone to Help Sell Your House (http://dronelife.com/2015/05/21/4-reason-will-hire-drone-help-sell-property-2014/). Still another article offers advice on the five ways to make money with a newly purchased drone (http://dronelife.com/2015/06/22/5-ways-to-make-money-with-your-drone/). One troubling aspect of the use of drones in real estate is the inclusion of adjacent areas of land or privately held properties in the selling pitch. Articles promoting the use of drones for aerial photography of houses on the market wax enthusiastic about the importance of depicting not just the property for sale but its surroundings.

Drones make sense for at least some facets of my mobbing. After all, as the mobbers proclaimed again and again at the beginning of the mobbing, they were the first to combine surveillance with mobbing, and would “make history.” This may have just been another taunt or an attempt to convince me that my research would turn up no information about what was happening to me. But every technique in mobbing is, ultimately, a form of surveillance.

It’s possible that since the houses on either side of me dwarf my own older, modest residence, that the owners of the houses flanking mine could, for example, position infrared cameras or other devices on their roofs or perhaps their upper stories and get a bird’s eye view into my home. In fact, as I lay in bed during one night of mobbing in the early months of this year, the mobbers did try to talk me out of my home by telling me to imagine a bank of “infrared lights” shining into my home from one of theirs. I considered it. At one point, it almost seemed inevitable that I should move. But in the end a bank of infrared panels made no difference to me, because forced eviction is illegal and is a violation of my rights. Be that as it may, given the fact that the mobbers have let me know that they can “see” my body position within the four walls of my home, even when the shades are drawn and night has fallen, some kind of infrared makes sense.

Drones also make sense as a method of mobbing me when I’m cycling outside on the Burke-Gilman bicycle trail, Seattle’s much beloved “bicycle freeway” that winds its way from the the Ballard Locks around the top of Lake Union, through the University of Washington and then around the north end of Lake Washington before joining the Sammamish River Trail. One drone tailor-made to follow a bicycle, the onagofly, is a lightweight drone that fits into the palm of a hand. The onagofly website (http://www.onagofly.com) touts it more or less as a flying GoPro camera, with a graphic showing an onagofly hovering protectively behind a kid on a bicycle. With a weight of 140 grams (0.3 pounds), and carrying a camera, a wi-fi module and a GPS module that gives it an “auto-follow” capability, this “smart drone” was born to surprise you says the marketing literature. One would hope not in the shower.

Key features of being mobbed on bicycle include:

  • Muted harassment that seems to fall just behind me on the bicycle, in the area of the panier rack and paniers.
  • Harassment that increases in volume and may be nearly loud for an instance when I pass someone who is probably has a cell phone or wireless device. This is something I’m sure of.
  • Harassment that seems to remain with the bicycle when I walk away from it. Not sure how this fits or if some type of GPS tracking on the bicycle would better explain this but I have been able to get short breaks from the mobbing babble by walking some yards from my bicycle along a stream or toward an area where there are no people (with cellphones) and no wireless services.
  • I have not been able to use cycling as a method of escaping being mobbed, in other words, to get respite from being mobbed. However, I believe I have tricked the mobbers a few times when I went in an unusual direction on the Burke-Gilman, for example, or when I left the Burke-Gilman in a wooded part of the  University of Washington campus. In both cases, they “found” me and the mobbing resumed.
  • When I cycle after dark, the harassment sometimes almost ceases. I’m not sure if this is because they cannot see my face well or because the tracking ability is inadequate in the dark. I’ve tested it for short distances by turning off my headlight or by going as long as I can before turning it on.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has great information on electronic surveillance that I’ve been looking at a lot as I write these posts. See the article on the inventor of GPS joining with the EFF in a campaign to block GPS tracking without warrants at https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2011/10/03-0.

For the FAA press release on the new rule, see Press Release—FAA Announces Small UAS Registration Rule (December 14, 2015) at https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=19856.

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