Drones, privacy and “flying lawnmowers”

A couple of notable discussions around drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Center for Democracy and Technology has some thoughtful recommendations on how Congress can write in privacy protections on the forthcoming drone legalization law (PL 112-95, or FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012).

For example, the FAA can and should issue Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs):

a. Require FAA/DOT to issue PIAs and rules on privacy and transparency for government and non-government use of drones. Provide FAA/DOT with specific authority to conduct these rulemakings and enforce the regulations.

b. Establish clear processes for law enforcement use of drones.

  1. Law enforcement should be prohibited from weaponizing drones.
  2. To use drones for extended surveillance of a particular target, law enforcement should be required to obtain a warrant and provide the target with notice after the fact of the surveillance.

b(1) certainly seems a good idea–imagine weaponized drones in the hands of police. (If you can’t, see here.) b(2) is also an interesting suggestion, certainly about the warrant, which I would agree with, but I can’t see LEAs getting too excited about informing the target afterwards.

What about so-called “drone journalism“? A group of people from the International Journalist’s Network recently met to discuss this topic and get a demo of a small RC drone. Their conclusion was that the current law and technological limits didn’t present a convincing case for drone use in journalism. One guy warned that drones are basically “flying lawnmowers.” A stakeout by someone with a good camera would yield more info (hey we learned this watching The Wire if nothing else).

They recommend… using a tethered balloon instead!

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