The Case for Humanitarian Drones: Response

Transformative Potential Worth Protecting
by Ryan Calo

I have three concerns regarding the domestic use of drones.  The first is that drones will facilitate massive surveillance by the government.  The second is that private parties will use drones to harass one another.  The third is that, precisely because of their readily imagined capacity for privacy mischief, the transformative potential of drones will never be realized.

This third concern – the concern for the drones themselves – may be the most pressing.  The prospect of military-grade drones on the home front is certainly chilling, but the present reality is that police departments cannot afford cutting-edge technology.  The drones owned by, for instance, the City of Seattle, where I live, can only stay up in the air for a short time.  It turns out to be hard to oppress in 10-minute increments (law firm billing notwithstanding).  This is not to deny that officers could put today’s drones to questionable use, borrow drones from the federal government, or upgrade their technology over time.  But for now, opportunities for constitutionally offensive conduct are relatively limited.

Similarly, many may recoil at the prospect of flying cameras in the hands of teenagers or paparazzi.  No bathroom window or backyard would be safe.  Those already uncomfortable with Google’s Street View technology might not welcome a less vertically challenged update.  Yet, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the American agency that Congress recently charged with expanding drone use in the United States – is not supposed to relax restrictions on private use until at least the fall of 2015.  This gives us a few years of breathing room.

In contrast, the danger that citizen backlash will ground drones is immediate.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, drones constitute an atypically visceral and salient example of surveillance technology.  People in the West are nervous about robots in general.  We find the specific act of drone surveillance – which many associate with the theatre of war (see “KILL”) – all too easy to imagine.  As such, drones generate intense opposition, to the point that I’ve gone on record saying that drones may help resuscitate long-dead concepts such as the reasonable expectation of privacy in public.

But think of the drones.  The potential uses of drones for good are endless (see “AID”).  The police can use drones to find the missing, improve tactical responses through better situational awareness, respond to disasters, or photograph unusual or difficult-to-access crimes scenes.  Parents are using drones to confirm their kids make it to the bus; teachers to teach physics; artists to provoke and reveal; activists to police the police; farmers to monitor and tend crops; environmentalists to catch polluters; and architectural photographers to explore new angles.  Likely, too, drones could be used for something you’ve never heard of: Perhaps the most wonderful development has been the emergence of the drone as a platform, which leaves the possibilities for applications in the millions of hands of software developers and end users. 

One might be tempted to simply tell opponents of drones to calm down.  That would be a mistake.  First, they absolutely have a point: This technology is headed in a direction that could seriously undermine civil liberties if left unchecked.  And second, no one takes well to being dismissed out of hand.  Rather, we should give in to their demands – demands, it should be noted, that are by and large very reasonable.  The FAA should acquiesce to requests from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the chambers of Representatives Ed Markey and Joe Barton, and others, to condition issuance of licences to operate drones on responsible privacy practices. 

Demonstrated privacy violations could then result in revoking the licences.  Domestic and federal law enforcement should be more transparent about existing and anticipated programs.  And police departments should commit to securing a warrant before using drones for many investigative purposes.  These, and perhaps other, reasonable conditions are a small price to pay to avoid curtailing a transformative technology of our time.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
PODCAST

One Year of Strong, Secure, Engaged: A Discussion with the Deputy Ministers

July 19, 2018

On today's 'Global Exchange' Podcast, we begin a new series assessing Canada's new defence policy -- Strong, Secure, Engaged -- one year after its original release. Today's episode, recorded during our June 7th conference in Ottawa, features CGAI Vice President & Senior Analyst Dave Perry in conversation with senior Department of National Defence bureaucrats: Jody Thomas, Bill Matthews, and Gordon Venner.



IN THE MEDIA

Think Canada wouldn’t be dragged into a U.S.-China trade war? Think again

by Kathryn Kyte (feat. Brian Kingston), Yahoo Canada, July 20, 2018

Military is off the radar of most Canadians: DND poll

by Murray Brewster (feat. Rob Huebert), CBC News, July 20, 2018

World’s ‘affection’ for Canada will help diversification: trade minister

by David Ljunggren (feat. Brian Kingston), Reuters, July 19, 2018


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email