Feel Your Privacy Is Threatened Now? Wait Till Drone Industry Really Gets Cranking

Friday, August 16, 2013

If you think like I used to think, you figure that drones are used only to locate and kill terrorists in foreign countries.  How wrong you are.

Drones can serve a variety of constructive purposes, like tracking the spread of wildfires, monitoring the growth of crops over vast swaths of farmland, conducting thermal infrared surveys of power lines, helping to coordinate disaster relief efforts during floods, improving weather forecasting, enhancing border security, and making it easier for the police to locate and catch criminals on the run.

Drones are so effectual and multifarious that they are about to give birth to a new, multi-billion-dollar, worldwide industry.  According to a study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, “the expected explosion” in the U.S. drone market “could create more than 70,000 new jobs with an economic effect of more than $13 billion in the first three years after the integration of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) into the U.S. national airspace system,” a development expected in 2015.

Yes, the association did use the words “expected explosion” in the press release announcing the drone study, (UAS Association Says Drone Market Will Create 70,000 Jobs in Next 3 Years, 3/15/13). Who says we flaks don’t have a sense of humor?

Of course, there’s a downside to the inevitable proliferation of drones.  There always is with a new technology. (Remember how the Internet was going to bless the human family by enabling the rapid exchange of all knowledge, and how the sale of pornography became the biggest Internet business?)

Well, all those camera-equipped machines swooping through the skies over our great metropolitan areas will have the power to further undermine our constitutional right to be protected from “unreasonable searches,” as established in the Fourth Amendment.  Our fear of terrorism has made us accept a level of government snooping that would have been unthinkable before 9/11/2001.  "Want to search me before I get on the subway?  Why, of course, Officer.  Let me help you with that latch on my briefcase."

A truly wonderful advance in the march of human rights, the Fourth Amendment states, in its entirety:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Here’s where one particular Massachusetts legislator, Senator Bob Hedlund, the rock ’n roll loving Republican from Weymouth, deserves our admiration and praise for trying to put some limits on those prying eyes in the sky.

Hedlund has filed Senate Bill 1664, An Act to Regulate the Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which is now before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation.  This bill would:

  • Require a department of state, county or municipal government that wanted to purchase a drone to obtain the approval of the state Secretary of Public Safety and Security, or, at the local level, a city council, board of aldermen, or board of selectmen.

  • Require any agency of government that wanted to use a drone in a criminal investigation or police action to obtain a warrant.

  • Limit a drone operator to collecting only the data specifically cited in a warrant; the operator would have to avoid, under penalty of law, collecting information on “individuals, homes and areas” not mentioned in the warrant.

  • Prohibit the collection and storage, via drones, of information about “the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership or other entity unless such information relates directly to an investigation of criminal activity, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is involved in criminal conduct.”

  • Prohibit the use, storage, copying, transmittal or disclosure of drone-collected data on an individual, home or area “other than the target” that justified the use of the drone in the first place, and “except with the written consent of the data subject.”

It will be interesting to see who turns up as witnesses at the State House, and how many witnesses there will be, when Hedlund’s bill gets a hearing.

The folks at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International are well fortified with facts on the tens of thousands of jobs that will be created, post 2015, in the U.S. drone industry.  But nowhere in the materials made available online by the association did I see anything on a business certain to explode in the brave new Drone Era:

Contractors specializing in the construction of drone-thwarting, privacy-protecting camouflage structures for homes, factories, places of entertainment, motels, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I expect that one of our legislators is already thinking about how to tax drone generated information now that the software services tax is in jeopardy.

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