THE DAWNING OF DOMESTIC DRONES: NYTimes Editorial

DeM Banter: …and so it goes….”Orwellian gnats” will soon be visiting you and your family… I know it sounds far-fetched and as if I am one of those “black helicopter” types….really I am not.  Just an individual that is trying to visualize where this will end up and what will the “industry” look like in a decade or so… always interesting…

New York Times
December 26, 2012
Pg. 24

The drones are coming to a neighborhood near you.

13372529556910The unmanned aircraft that most people associate with hunting terrorists and striking targets in Pakistan are on the brink of evolving into a big domestic industry. It is not a question of whether drones will appear in the skies above the United States but how soon.

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly select six domestic sites to test the safety of drones, which can vary in size from remote-controlled planes as big as jetliners to camera-toting hoverers called Nano Hummingbirds that weigh 19 grams.

The drone go-ahead, signed in February by President Obama in the F.A.A. reauthorization law, envisions a $5 billion-plus industry of camera drones being used for all sorts of purposes from real estate advertising to crop dusting to environmental monitoring and police work.

Responding to growing concern as the public discovers drones are on the horizon, the agency recently and quite sensibly added the issue of citizens’ privacy to its agenda. Setting regulations under the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unlawful search is of the utmost importance. But since the F.A.A.’s primary mission is safety, Congress should take the matter in hand by writing privacy safeguards for the booming drone industry.

The anticipated market includes tens of thousands of police, fire and other government agencies able to afford drones lighter than traditional aircraft and costing as little as $300. Several surveillance drones are already used for border patrol, and the F.A.A. has allowed a few police departments to experiment narrowly, as in a ceiling of 400 feet for surveillance flights over the Everglades by the Miami Police Department.

Privacy worries in California prompted Alameda County officials to postpone drone plans for further study. The local sheriff insisted that what he had in mind was disaster response, not random snooping, but the local American Civil Liberties Union office claimed the plan would have permitted extensive intelligence gathering.

The A.C.L.U.’s national office is warning that while drones could have many benefits like search-and-rescue work and tracking dangerous criminal situations, the law’s lack of privacy mandates will inevitably invite “pervasive surveillance” of the public.

The idea of watchful drones buzzing overhead like Orwellian gnats may seem far-fetched to some. But Congress, in its enthusiasm for a new industry, should guarantee the strongest protection of privacy under what promises to be a galaxy of new eyes in the sky.

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3 thoughts on “THE DAWNING OF DOMESTIC DRONES: NYTimes Editorial

  1. Hi Bill,

    This is already way far beyond what this op-ed is all about. The courts have ruled a **long** time ago that anything visible from the sky on your property is fair game to be seen and used by law enforcement. There is no expectation of privacy for something that is in sight and visible from the sky. This has been challenged and stood the test in several court cases. Not too long ago, law enforcement used a drone that was doing border patrol to scope out the property of some guys “holed up on the back 40” so to speak and then plan their raid. This was challenged as being a warrant-less search, but the case law on what is visible from the sky goes way back, so the use of the drone survived the court challenge. I think this use of drones is a done deal as far as law enforcement goes. Not that I like it, but there it is…. As soon as law enforcement gets budgeted for it, they will have it, and they ***will*** use it. Until then, look for more cooperative agreements and other sharing of assets as needed.

    I don’t think the ramifications of FAR part 91 Section 119 and other safe operation rules have been fully explored with respect to remote controlled airplanes flying over private property. There is a line somewhere between what a pilot knows is OK to do, and what someone that read the instruction manual will try to do. You and I know where that line is, but I bet a lot of customers buying drones don’t. That is where the real issue is. Just think what the paparazzi and other non law enforcement types do with drones. For example, there was a recent scandal involving one of the royals that was likely drone enabled. In another example, one of the animal friendly groups got one of their drones shot down at a private facility. Is it legal for a non-law enforcement entity to fly a drone over private property to spy? I don’t know. Frankly I don’t see much difference between using a drone and renting a helicopter or something similar to do the flyover. As long as all the FAR requirements are complied with, it’s likely legal even if that particular aircraft operation isn’t desirable from someone’s perspective. That said, I’ll bet at least one of the two above mentioned incidents did not comply with FAR 91 Section 119 or its equivalent for other countries.

    Cheers,

    Ben

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