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News Corp. may have used drones to film Souris River flooding

MINOT, N.D. - Did Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., already under fire for hacking into cellphones in Britain, have an illegal eye in the sky during the Souris River flood here?

Regulators with the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the news company's use of drones that took aerial video of floods in North Dakota and Mississippi.

"We're looking to see if any of our regulations were violated," Laura Brown, a spokeswoman with the FAA in Washington, said Monday. "There are a whole myriad of issues," including restrictions on altitude and flying over populated areas, she said.

A News Corp. website, The Daily, features The Daily Drone, which took flight above Minot in late June, apparently several days after the flood.

A video post dated June 29 showed low-altitude footage of devastated homes and businesses and a narrator noting that "thousands" of homes had been damaged.

Commercial operators typically need a certificate for permission to fly "unmanned aerial systems."

Aviation officials are at work refining regulations with small drones in mind, which are seeing new uses as the technology becomes more readily available.

"There are a lot of different applications for these," Brown said, including law-enforcement surveillance.

Brown wouldn't say how the investigation started. News Corp., through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on its newsgathering methods.

The Daily Drone's flights over Minot came as a surprise to local aviation officials.

"We've not been notified of anything, much less heard of it," said Andy Solsvig, director of the Minot International Airport. "It's news to me."

That's not surprising, he added, since approval would have to come through the FAA. Any local contact likely would be with the control tower, not airport administration, he said.

Several media outlets were given permission to fly in light aircraft for aerial photographs and video during the flood, Solsvig said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522