You’ll recall that the Federal Aviation Administration set a new land speed record this year in terms of rolling out regulations on the purchase and use of drones by civilians, requiring owners of the unmanned aircraft weighing more than half a pound to register them with the government or face some serious retribution. This took place without the normal public comment period, leading the Competitive Enterprise Institute to threaten a lawsuit in the hope of slowing the process down. So how did that work out? It apparently didn’t do much of anything to dissuade them because the rules went into effect today. (Yahoo News)

Starting today, all individuals who own drones that weigh .55 pounds or more will be required to register their devices with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The registration process costs $5, but the FAA, in an effort to foster compliance, has said that it will waive the processing fee for users who register by January 20th, 2016…

In conjunction with the FAA’s new registration guidelines, the agency recently put up an FAQ page for folks interested in learning more about the ins and outs of drone registration, or as the FAA calls them, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The section regarding penalties relays that failing to properly register an eligible drone can potentially result in both regulatory and criminal sanctions.

Specifically, the FAA may hit you with a civil fine up to $27,500. Criminal penalties, meanwhile, include fines that can go as high as $250,000 and the threat of “imprisonment for up to three years.”

Clearly, the FAA is not messing around.

So they’re waving the five dollar fee for one month, which is really nice of them I suppose. But if you’re wrapping one up today as a last minute gift or simply getting ready to assemble the model you got yourself as a Christmas present, you’d better make sure that the registration is filled out and sent in. That may seem like a needless intrusion since, as we discussed previously, the authorities have already said that they don’t have the resources to track down all the drone users in any meaningful way.

So if they can’t (or won’t) enforce this rule, what do you have to worry about? Just for an example, let’s say that you’re a Social Justice Warrior who spies the police pulling over a suspect and you launch your drone to go record the event in case there’s a shooting. Or, conversely, perhaps you spot a Black Lives Matter march coming down your street and you launch your drone from your apartment in hopes of capturing a delightful holiday video of them singing songs about frying up pigs like bacon. If you are within line of sight of your craft and don’t go above a certain altitude, there’s a good chance that you haven’t broken any laws, but you might tick somebody off. If they knock your drone down and somehow trace it back to you, there’s no crime they could prosecute you for in terms of the actual operation of the vehicle. But if the government really wants to stick it to you they can still nail you on the failure to register charge, setting you back a quarter million dollars and perhaps sending you off for a few years in the Big House.

I really have no interest in getting a drone myself. I know how I am with gadgets and it would probably be fascinating for a couple of weeks before winding up in my shed. (Along with my metal detector. #sigh ) But the way they’re rolling these new regulations out so quickly, I’m even less inclined to pick one up even if I felt like wasting the money.

Drones