Secretive Sun Valley Media Conference on Alert for Drone Spies

Sun Valley Said to Be on the Watch for Drones at Billionaire Enclave

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Credit: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg

As billionaires and dealmakers descend upon Sun Valley, Idaho, for the Allen & Co. media conference this week, security personnel are on the lookout for a new kind of threat: drones.

Event staff are watching the skies for unmanned aerial vehicles that could photograph, harass or harm attendees at the annual gathering of business executives, according to two people familiar with the plans who asked not to be named. While scouts have monitored for remote-controlled drones at previous Allen & Co. events, they're more prevalent this year as the flying gizmos become increasingly commonplace, said one of the people, a security official who sought anonymity because the measures are private.

Jack Sibbach, director of public relations at Sun Valley Resort, referred inquiries to MSA Security, which was hired for the event. A spokesman for MSA Security declined to comment. Herb Allen III, Allen & Co.'s president and CEO, didn't respond to a phone message left at his New York office.

Domesticating drones
Sun Valley draws some of the biggest names in technology and media, and this year's guest list includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Google's Eric Schmidt, all of whose companies have been investing in drone technology. So far, Twitter's Dick Costolo, LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner, AOL's Tim Armstrong and Greylock Partners venture capitalist Reid Hoffman have all been spotted making the rounds.

Reporters and photographers are kept behind velvet ropes trying to get a glimpse of -- or conversation with -- the billionaire attendees. It's the security company's job to prevent the press or other event crashers from getting in by land or air.

Photographs of moguls are valuable and in high demand from news agencies. As tempting as it may be to send a camera-equipped mini-copter into the event, commercial use of drones is prohibited in the U.S., according to Les Dorr, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration. There are exceptions for devices flown by licensed pilots who receive prior authorization from regulators. The administration is working on rules, which could come out this year, that would relax restrictions for drones under 55 pounds.

"You cannot operate any aircraft in a way that endangers the safety of people and property on the ground," Mr. Dorr said in a phone interview. "If you're buzzing over people, we could take enforcement action."

Sun Valley police aren't focused on drone prevention, Assistant Police Chief Michael Crawford said by phone. If a property owner complains about a drone, he said police would "go and try to talk to the person who was operating it."

~ Bloomberg News ~

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