Obama sees need to move on drone rules now

Josh Lederman
Associated Press

Washington — President Barack Obama says the wayward quadcopter that crashed on the White House grounds — flown by an off-duty intelligence employee — shows that the U.S. must take steps to ensure commercial and consumer drones are used safely.

It’s his own administration that has lagged on the matter. Both Congress and the drone industry have pressed for rules and clarification as the technology of civilian drone use grows apace and the small unmanned craft become ever cheaper.

Obama, in a CNN interview from India, likened the 2-foot-long quadcopter that crashed on the White House lawn to one that could be bought at Radio Shack, which lists them from $50 to $700.

“We don’t yet have the legal structures and the architecture both globally and within individual countries to manage them the way that we need to,” Obama said Tuesday. Part of his job in his final two years in office “is seeing if we can start providing some sort of framework that ensures that we get the good and minimize the bad.”

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said Tuesday the man, still unidentified, is one of its employees. His work has nothing to do with drones, the agency said in a statement, adding, “Even though the employee was using a personal item while off duty, the agency takes the incident very seriously and remains committed to promoting public trust and transparency.”

The agency supplies map-based and related intelligence to the Pentagon and other national security operations.

The crash set off a White House lockdown. The man stepped forward hours later and appeared to convince investigators that he meant no harm with the extraordinary breach of presidential security — and of existing rules for drone flights — and that he did not mean the drone to go where it did.

The errant flight pointed to vulnerabilities in defending against small, low-flying threats as well as the risks of hobbyist drones going astray in populated places or near airports.