A drone that has crashed on the White House grounds on Monday

Drone crash at White House spurs security concerns

A small drone has crashed in a White House garden spurring calls for tighter regulations of the technology which could be abused by terrorists.

The incident, involving a rather harmless quad-copter available from commercial retailers, took place while US President Barack Obama was in India.

The US officials described the incident as rather harmless and said they had identified the owner of the device. However, the case prompted a new wave of calls for clearer and stricter regulations of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

"There is no stronger sign that clear FAA guidelines for drones are needed," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for regulating US airspace.

The device, approximately 2ft (61cm) in diameter, was spotted flying at a low altitude at 3:08am EST (08:08 GMT) before it crashed on the south-east side of White House grounds, Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor said in a statement.

Mainor said there was an "immediate alert and lockdown of the complex until the device was examined and cleared".

Obama himself commented on the accident in an interview with CNN

"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," he said.

"Part of my job over the past several years and over the next couple of years that I'm still in office is seeing if we can start providing some sort of framework that ensures that we get the good and minimise the bad."

The drone industry has experienced a boom over the past years with companies including Amazon developing applications for parcel delivery, environmental monitoring or news gathering.

US regulators are reportedly already working on new rules governing the commercial use of small remote-controlled aircraft.

In the UK a near miss involving a passenger jet and a similar remotely piloted helicopter shocked the public in November last year, showing how little control regulators have over the technology, which has also raised privacy concerns.

This week, former UK security and counter-terrorism minister Lord West of Spithead called for stricter controls on drones due to fears the technology could be easily exploited by terrorists.

“There is no specific criminal terrorism offence regarding unmanned aerial vehicles as there are for aircraft," Lord West said during a debate on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, pointing to the fact that anyone can purchase these devices for as little as a couple of hundred pounds.

"The greater use of no-fly zones should be looked at,” he suggested, referring to a study which warned of the risk of drones being used to carry improvised explosive devices or chemical and biological agents.

According to Lord Ashton of Hyde, the government has established a working group co-chaired by the Department of Transport and the Ministry of Defence and including the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which was looking at the safety, privacy and security implications of UAVs.

"If this group identifies any issues where new legislative powers are necessary they would be addressed," Lord Ashton told peers.

Under current CAA regulations, small UAVs not equipped with radar transponders and thus not visible to conventional air-traffic control radars can only be flown legally within segregated airspace or within the line of sight of the operator up to a maximum altitude of 400ft. The CAA also limits the use of drones over densely populated areas, issuing permits on a case by case basis.

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