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Obama says U.S. must catch up to ensure drones are safe

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS VIA U.S. SECRET SERVICE
    A small drone crashed onto the White House grounds in Washington, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.
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WASHINGTON >> The United States has fallen behind technological advancements that have made small drones readily available and must update its laws to ensure safety, President Barack Obama said Tuesday, in his first public comments about a drone that crashed on the White House grounds.

Obama said drones, properly used, have the potential to empower people in ways unimaginable just a decade ago. He said the federal government is playing catch-up to ensure their use in the U.S. isn’t dangerous and doesn’t violate people’s privacy.

“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 in a CNN interview. He said 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.”

Obama likened the 2-foot-long quadcopter that crashed on the presidential campus to one that could be bought at Radio Shack, a reminder that technology that was once cutting-edge and expensive is now easily acquired by the American consumer. He said drones have “incredibly useful functions” ranging from agriculture and conservation to package delivery, but that like with cyberspace, U.S. policies to deal with them are still a work in progress.

The drone-control debate has hit uncomfortably close to home for the White House, thanks to an apparently hapless operator who sent his quadcopter crashing inside the presidential compound before dawn on Monday.

Questions persist about why the night-owl drone operator would be flying it within range of the White House at 3 a.m. but the Secret Service’s early investigation suggested he meant no harm. Even so, the crash inside the compound pointed to the risk of increasingly commonplace drones penetrating the presidential security bubble, with more dangerous intent.

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