White House Security Breach Shifts Debate on Civilian Drones


By Alan Levin and Angela Greiling Keane

The discovery of a radio-controlled copter on the White House lawn injects a new complication into the debate over the growing popularity of drones used by civilians.

The security breach Monday at the U.S. presidential mansion in Washington gives ammunition to those who want to see tight restrictions on who can fly unmanned aircraft and where, said Patrick Egan, a drone advocate. It also raises questions about how the government can even enforce such rules.

Hobbyists, filmmakers and other enthusiasts had been making progress in getting the Federal Aviation Administration to be more permissive about civilian drones. The Obama administration was set to release new privacy standards and was reviewing a proposal to allow drones for commercial purposes such as for sporting events and oil-field inspections. Then one landed on the president’s lawn.

“I think this might chill it,” said Egan, who has lobbied the federal government for broader approval to fly unmanned aircraft. “It definitely shows some holes in the plan.”

The aircraft found early Monday is a widely available device that costs a few hundred dollars, according to a federal official who asked for anonymity because the information isn’t yet public. The U.S. Secret Service didn’t respond to requests for comment about its investigation into who flew the device in what is restricted airspace.

The president, who is traveling, and his family were never in danger, according to the White House.