Connecticut journo says drone was farther from fatal crash scene than photographers with telephoto lenses

A drone journalist in Connecticut, who also works on a freelance basis for a television news station, made national headlines earlier this month after being questioned by police at the scene of a fatal car accident.

Despite the accident being in clear view of public streets, Hartford police told news agencies that they were concerned about the drone intruding on the victim’s privacy.

In an email to the Professional Society of Drone Journalists, the drone journalist, 29-year old Pedro Rivera wrote that journalists on the ground obtained more intrusive images than his drone was capable of taking.

“If privacy is a concern, it was not with me,” Rivera wrote. “It was with all the local news stations that were on the sidewalks with ‘long lenses’ and had shots so tight, that you could see inside the crash vehicle.”

The freelancer provided the PSDJ with an aerial photo taken by his drone at the scene of the accident (the same photo was given to Vice Motherboard). At the time of the photo, the victim’s body was covered with a white sheet.

Rivera’s drone, a DJI Phantom 2 Vision, was launched away from police and television crews. It was flying about 200 feet above the ground when it took the photo, and was not equipped with any kind of magnifying lens.

Rivera's drone is GPS-enabled, which is often used for stability, but can also be used to record where the drone was when it took photos. According to the EXIF data stamped on Rivera's image, the drone was approximately 150 feet from the accident site when it took the photo.

The drone journalist did not take photos in exchange for money, which the Federal Aviation Administration considers illegal at this time.

Police questioned Rivera and asked him to produce identification, at which point the photojournalist showed his identification for WFSB, a local broadcast station where he works on a freelance basis. Rivera wasn’t taking aerial photos for the station, but wrote that his WFSB identification was the only identification he was carrying at the time.

In their report, Hartford police mistakenly wrote that Rivera was filming on behalf of the station. Police later called and sent an email to WFSB about Rivera using a drone for the station. He contested the police account, but was suspended without pay for a week.

WFSB eventually confirmed with police that Rivera wasn’t using his drone for reporting, but for his own personal use. He’s been flying his quadrotor drone since December, and one day hopes to use his equipment for the production company he runs with his wife.

“I consider myself a photojournalist and any local breaking news I would run out and head to the scene,” Rivera wrote. “I covered Fires, murders, accidents, water main breaks, any large gathering such as community events, and similar.”

Rivera said he has not been contacted by the FAA concerning his flight.

“Last I checked, this was not a police state,” Rivera wrote to the PSDJ. “Fly safe and responsible, but do not allow anyone to stop your freedom or right to cover events, or something as simple as your satisfaction of flying high."

Below are more photos taken by Rivera's quadrotor drone, of other incidents in the Hartford area.

Posted on February 16, 2014 by Matthew Schroyer