Symposium 2015: Do drones present a threat to individuals’ privacy and security?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Though drones have been used in a number of federal and state government surveillance programs to combat local crime, they have also been used to scrutinize southern border intrusions, terrorist activity, weapons running, and seek and destroy efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern war zones.  In spite of the sometimes questionable use of drones for protective and combative efforts, their domestic use has been challenged concerning the threats that drones pose to an individual’s privacy and security.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is responsible for the licensing of drones within the United States, and the agency has instituted minimum standards of safety concerning the operation of drones.  The government is allowed to more freely activate drones, but they are required to obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to complete operation of drone aircraft.  Licensing applications focus on routine types of guidelines that have to do with the safe operation of the drone itself, whether it is airworthy, hazard and risk-free, and injury-limited towards property and individuals.   Commercial drones have operational limitations and can only be used under experimental conditions; however, a large number of licenses have been issued and discrepancies in their use at both the commercial and government level have occurred.  Individuals that utilize drones for leisure activities do not have to submit to FAA certification as long as drone use stays below a 400 foot level and are used with good judgment.

In spite of the FAA’s restrictions, though limited concerning privacy issues, individual rights still remain at the forefront of the problem.    A drone’s design and range capability enable it to continually observe, undetected, in any environment whether in the countryside or a major city.  An enhanced drone is able to access detailed pictures and videos, look closely through high-level windows, as well as peer through walls, fences, foliage and other barriers.  They are also capable of utilizing infrared cameras, heat sensors, global positioning (GPS) and motion detection that allows recognition and identification of individuals in recreational areas, schools, and other gatherings.   The FBI has opted in to increased government surveillance, as it is able to utilize and link its huge identification databases (DHS’IDENT) to government drones, which aid in the facial identification of individuals that they believe to be political agitators.  This type of drone invasiveness indicates First and Fourth Amendment violations as well as privacy violations that are embedded in common law.

With the surge of drone use, an individual’s privacy, safety, and security continue to be threatened in America.  Celebrities are being stalked with drone photographic technology, private detectives and police departments use drones to follow and track suspects, and the criminally minded use drones to stalk, harass and get even with their adversaries.  Even Google, Inc. has gotten in the game in other countries where their drones are positioned at street level to show more movement of individuals in Google’s Street View feature.

Drones do pose a threat to the privacy and security of individuals.  Without strict limitations concerning drone licensure and government and commercial distribution, surveillance activities on unsuspecting individuals will continue.  In addition, for safety’s sake, when drones operate in airspace used by commercial and private aircraft, federal agencies need to be regulated concerning the use of drones in such airspace. Citizen groups, state legislatures and the Congress must override what the federal government has allowed to happen with drone intrusiveness on the lives of innocent individuals.  Though Congress has approved amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 that prohibits information collected by government (Department of Defense) drones from being used as evidence in court cases,  Congress, the FAA and other governing bodies have not gone far enough to protect individual citizens from the invasiveness of drones.   As private, recreational drones are used for different purposes, they should not be subject to the kind of stringent limitations that are placed on government and commercially designed drones.  Government and commercial drones may have their place with border intrusions, war skirmishes, terrorist camps, prisoner rescues, hostage situations and crime scenes, but they do not need to be hovering over the back yard of a citizen who just attended a July 4th celebration.


Owatanna, MN Correspondent-Let me count the ways! Off the top of my head, being hit by an errant drone operated by an inexperienced pilot leaps to mind as the biggest threat to my individual security. Perverts flying drones around my house at night trying to use onboard cameras to get a cheap thrill view of my wife or me is my biggest privacy concern.

Secondary issues might be drones being flown along busy streets that distract drivers into causing accidents, or distract pedestrians crossing streets and leaving them open to being hit by cars. Drones could infringe on privacy if they have cameras and hover close enough to spy on people in public places who might be in compromising positions (think a young couple who chooses to engage in sex in a secluded outdoor location).

Those are a few issues with private drone operators. While serious, they pale in comparison to what government agencies might start doing with drones. We already have Constitutional issues with traffic cameras photographing cars that run red lights so the local cops can mail the owners a traffic ticket. The next logical step up from that is deploying drones equipped with radar guns above streets and highways to monitor and catch speeders. A dozen drones in a small city might do the work of a hundred police officers and save the government a great deal of money, while at the same time enhancing the city coffers with speeding ticket fines.

I’m not advocating we let anyone drive as fast as they want to with no enforcement of traffic laws, but I’m concerned that “Big Brother is watching” has the potential to become a horrific reality. What if our every move in public was subject to remote monitoring? What sort of quality of life would we have if we had to worry about every little innocent but stupid thing most of us do in public that might get us into some sort of trouble because a drone was watching? I don’t get comfort from assurances I’m safer because drones are everywhere looking for bad guys.

While drones have been valuable in certain areas such as combat and weather monitoring, drone technology is so new and we’ve had so little experience with the practical side, that society is bound to overreach or overreact with employing drones for various purposes. However this new capability plays out, I hope the people in charge of rules and regulations proceed cautiously.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent-I think most of us have seen the commercial for credit monitoring where they are singing “getting to know you, getting to know all about you”. But if not, one of the scenes shows a man in the park flying a drone overhead someone on their phone doing personal banking or something of the sort. As dramatized as that commercial is, it’s the sad truth! It’s not uncommon for things to start out innocently enough, and then someone will undoubtedly find a way to turn it into something terrible. It’s just the nature of the beast. So, yes, they are dangerous in the wrong hands. What do we do? I’m not sure. I don’t want to remove them from the hands of little Timmy who has dreams of becoming a film director; but I don’t want Steve peeping in my window while I’m on my computer or changing clothes.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-This past Christmas, the hottest toy around for those of shaving age was the drone.  Big ones, small ones, gas-powered or rechargeable, it seemed like every grownup (yes, mostly male ones) wanted a drone of some sort.

And they got them.  By the millions.  One of the hottest commodities on YouTube right now is the “drone fail” video, showing expensive pieces of equipment being wrapped up into balls courtesy of impact with trees, power poles, cars, houses and innocent bystanders.  However, as the skill level of the average operator increases, these sorts of things will become less common and we’ll move on into the more menacing aspect of widespread drone ownership.

Already there’s been a much-publicized incident in which an outraged father used his trusty shotgun to disable a drone that he claimed was being used to snoop on his teenage daughter, who was sunbathing in the back yard.  Quite tellingly, the judge who presided over the case dismissed the charges against the father, saying that the Castle Doctrine applied, in this case, to the airspace over his daughter’s body.

Not everyone carries a firearm, though, nor do we want random people firing into the air trying to bring down offending drones.  With the proliferation of drones, the operators will undoubtedly begin to feel safety in numbers.  When we become more inured to the presence of UAVs overhead, will we pay as much attention to that one particular drone with the camera trained on us?

Far be it from me to venture into hysteria, but can it be too long before garage tinkerers start coming up with ways to effectively arm drones?  We’ve already seen a crude attempt, with one drone fitted out to carry and fire a revolver.  It was hideously inaccurate, and the drone didn’t long survive the punishment of the recoil, but it was a first step. Can we really be dense enough to imagine that the culture that turned BattleBots into a TV phenomenon won’t come up with a way for drones to get in on the fun?

My only question is whether I need to invest in body armor or start working on my own chain saw-equipped drone.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Do you love your privacy and security? Would you relish the idea of knowing that your family is being stalked by the unknown? Many individuals feel that way, as over the years, the government has invaded their personal space, leaving them uneasy and insecure. Drones, have been dispensed to monitor the activities of individuals. They are military surveillances manufactured as unmanned aircrafts. These aerial vehicles have no human navigator on-board and are usually remotely controlled from the ground or automatically.

Though these unmanned aerial vehicles have proven beneficial as they can be used in battle without putting lives at risk, they can have a devastating effect on the privacy and security of the common citizen.  The nature of these drones makes them quite inconspicuous, as they are light and can fly overhead without knowledge. These drones were used by the United States government to perform thorough surveillance on countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. In fact, in 2007, approximately 700 drones were dispatched and used in Iraq.

It is for this reason individuals should worry about their privacy and safety. It’s appalling to know that one can be followed the entire day, having their encounters and every doing mapped out by these drones without their knowledge. Yes, these vehicles were more than capable of gathering Intel on their subjects. Yes, drones do present a threat to individual’s privacy and security.

Cartwright—The answer to the question is an unequivocal, “Yes.”  I love the idea of having drones used for police surveillance on criminals.  Hell, I even like having them armed to catch people who speed or run red lights and give them a ticket.  I certainly don’t favor drones in the hands of private citizens who want to invade their neighbors’ privacy.  This is one thing that needs to be stopped quickly and resolutely.  Local governments need to ban these just like they banned laser pointers.  No good will come from people having drones.  Ban them now.

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