By Regina Moreno Hernandez
Technology is always in a rush; it moves at the speed of light. You blink and a new device has been released, a camera has been invented, people are wearing Google glasses, our watches are phones, and there are drones all over our heads.
If you are not really familiar with the term Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), maybe you have heard about drones, which are defined as an “aircraft without a human pilot aboard”. Drones have been in the spotlight because Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, wants to use them to make deliveries to his customers within approximately 30 minutes; drone strikes in Pakistan may have caught your attention too. But the U. S. Government is not the only one using drones, these flying androids are used on film sets and basically everyone who can afford a drone can buy one.
According to Forbes magazine, “consumer drones as an industry are predicted to surpass $102 million in revenues in 2015, a 49% increase over last year.”
Maybe that is why GoPro CEO, Nick Woodman, is so interested in drones and supports their use (at least for recreational activities). The man known as the “mad billionaire” said, “GoPro is good for drones and drones are good for GoPro”. On the other side, Senator Rockefeller proposed a bill in December of 2014 to protect people’s privacy from drones; meanwhile Senator Markey and Senator Welch sent a letter to President Obama expressing their concern about privacy and drones.
Drone detectors and the requirement licenses to be able to drive a drone are some of the ideas that have been proposed within this chaos, within this technology. As citizens we wonder whether these measures would make sense or applying them would mean that we are being paranoid “tech haters”.
In an interview with Dr. Otto Carlos Muniz Bandeira Duarte, graduate in Computer Science, we asked him about drones and their relation with privacy. In his opinion, drones infringe in our privacy just as much as social media, this is because our information can be easily obtained by both social media and drones. As an expert in technology he is conscious about the difficulties in implementing regulations for drones. As for drone detectors, he thinks they will actually be used by some people; according to Dr. Muniz Bandeira Duarte, licenses should be required because not everybody should be allowed to fly a UAV, due to the big responsibilities that it implies.
The main issue with drones is whether they violate the Fourth Amendment or not. According to the research made for this article, drones actually might violate our rights because “surveillance drones have thermal and x ray imaging capabilities”, and the Fourth Amendment “protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, and surveillance drone technology violates those rights.” However, at this point, how much privacy do we have with the advanced technology that exists nowadays? Would drones make a big difference?
Is it logic or just paranoia?
If questioning the use of UAVs is not enough to drive you crazy, it is time for you to start considering if you should have a drone detector or if you should feel safe without one. Yes! They do exist, and you can buy one if you think that is the better option. This detector, which Domestic Drone Countermeasures invented, can tell you when a drone is near you up to a radius of 200 feet; the kit consists on “three boxes: a Primary Command and Control Module and two Detection Sensor Nodes. These three boxes create a mesh network that can triangulate moving transmitters.” Drone detectors might just be another way to make money out of people’s fears or an actual defense device that can be useful to society. Time and enacted laws will determine how necessary Domestic Drone Countermeasures’ product is.
Another big concern is the requirement of licenses. Should everybody be able to fly a drone?, if not, who should? How will they get a license? Just like a car, to fly a drone you need to know some things, nevertheless, after knowing the rules, assuring a pilot follows them is kind of difficult.
Licenses might be a requirement that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will ask for drone pilots to ask, but in that case, giving licenses could be inefficient if there is no law enforcement who is checking around and making sure pilots have their permits. Then our streets would be filled not only by drones but also by “drone police”?
While all this is questioned, Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has already proposed a bill to protect citizens and their privacy; Senator Markey (D-MA) and Welch (D-VT) sent a letter to Obama where they say “we believe that the federal government should put in place strong, enforceable rules –not voluntary best practices– that protect the privacy rights of American citizens.” Hopefully these politicians have a genuine concern and will help to enforce laws to protect Americans’ privacy.
Senior Senator Rockefeller did not follow his family’s tradition and decided to join the Democrat Party rather than the Republican Party. He believes drones might be useful but we should not let them fly beneath us without laws that ensure our rights are respected.
Senators Markey and Welcher are both Democrats and are considered to be mainly progressive, they believe transparency is of vital importance as well as adhering to the rights of American citizens. It is not the first time Ed Markey worries about privacy, in fact he is well known for constantly publishing and sending letters complaining about privacy violations and giving his opinion on this issues. He also sponsored the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and helped build consumer-privacy protections into the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
A big advocate of drones is Nick Woodman, GoPro CEO, this is not a big surprise, we are talking about the guy who started a company out of the idea of tying a camera to the palm of his hand with a rubber band and surfboard leashes. He is now known as the “mad-billionaire”. Woodman lives for and makes a living from technology, this is why his support for drones totally makes sense. Woodman thinks that some regulations are needed in order to keep things safe, but too many would stifle the technology industry’s growth.
Whether or not GoPro will sell drones in the future, is still a secret, since the company has not wanted to make anything public yet. GoPro fans would probably be happy if that actually happened, but they are not the only ones pendant of the news; drone companies want to know what will happen, especially because if GoPro gets into the drone business, there is a great probability that the UAV industry goes up. Just imagine, one of the most important companies in the technology industry producing the most innovative product of the moment. Sounds like the perfect formula for success.
The last but not the least in the characters involved in the drone industry is the FAA, which is the organization in charge of making all the regulations for the use of drones. Actually, some measures have already been posted, they are even explained in a video you can watch at their webpage. The problem is that some of the rules are not very clear and the terms are very broad, rules such as “don’t be reckless with your drone” or “don’t fly near people”. What do they mean by reckless? Does near mean low or around people? These are some of the questions that might arise after you watch the “Know Before You Fly” video.
The FAA finds itself in a difficult situation, being too strict would bring criticism from the companies and drone advocates, while being too flexible might mean leaving American citizens vulnerable and legislators mad.
In the end all the questions posted in this article summarize in one: What can we do when technology goes faster than the ability of human beings to create laws to control it? It’s human nature to keep inventing things but it’s also in its nature not knowing how to control them; but which is more dangerous, mankind doesn’t know how to use what it invents.
The future of drones is still uncertain, but regulations are still on their way; whether the people or the companies are the main concern of the FAA is even less clear. As citizens we expect that the laws that are passed will be fair and transparent for everybody.