The U.S. government must shield its citizens from the multiplying eyes of surveillance drones
Before the decade is out, there may be thousands more eyes in the sky. Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, are already a staple of modern warfare. Now they are set to take on a much larger role in the U.S.
Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to set rules by 2015 for how drones may be used in domestic airspace. These rules could open up the skies to unmanned vehicles of all types—from large surveillance drones used by the military to insect-size prototypes being developed in university laboratories. The technology promises to be immensely useful. Public safety agencies can use drones to survey wildfires, conduct search-and-rescue operations, or pursue heavily armed suspects. Farmers will use them to survey their fields; energy companies will fly drones over critical machinery.
Still, drones also pose an immense threat to privacy. The proliferation of small, inexpensive aerial vehicles with video downlinks will dramatically alter the cost-benefit ratio of surveillance. No longer will law-enforcement agencies need to consider the expense and risk of operating a helicopter when gathering evidence. Consequently, law-enforcement agencies will have ample opportunity and motivation to deploy drones on open-ended sorties. It is not hard to imagine blanket campaigns that survey entire cities for backyard marijuana plants or even building code violations. Privacy advocates rightly worry that drones, equipped with high-resolution video cameras, infrared detectors and even facial-recognition software, will let snoops into realms that have long been considered private.
The privacy threat does not just come from law enforcement, either. Paparazzi and private detectives will find drones just as easy to use as the cops. Your neighbor is not allowed go into your yard without your permission—will he be able to keep a drone hovering just above it?
via Scientific American – The Editors
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