Here be dragons: the drone army

Drones are finding their way from military to civilian use - and are creating a whole new set of eyes in the sky. Are we ready for the privacy implications of widespread done use?

Drone have been in the news of late. Their increasing use in warfare, especially in Afghanistan, has reduced the loss of life of services forces there – but raised moral issues around killing from a distance. The Financial Times in the UK worried about drones as assassins:

The more serious objection to drones is that they have blurred the line between war and assassination. Somebody suspected of plotting a terrorist attack on the soil of the US or the UK would be subject to arrest and prosecution. But if the suspects are in the tribal areas of Pakistan, they can simply be blown away.

However, the use of remote-controlled devices like those drones is spreading into civillian life, too. Team BackSheep, for example, is doing some incredible video work with remote control drones like the one pictured above, shooting footage of both urban and rural environments that just wouldn’t be available any other way. You can watch them explore London or San Francisco.  The drone is controlled by an operator using google which are connected to a camera mounted on th device. He is, in effect, seeing what the drone sees, and steering as if he were the drone. It must be a fantastic experiences – as close, visually, to aircraft-less flight as you’ll get.

The footage created by Team BlackSheep and their ilk is fascinating, and great fun – but raises issues of privacy. These drones can go places that conventional photographers and videographers can’t. They can fly above and around private property, and into government buildings. Fences, forest, walls – not problem. Over and around, flies the drone, filming all the way. Can the concept of place-based privacy even exist with such devices? Will unscrupulous journalists use them to get footage in places people felt safe?

We already live in the most recorded culture ever, between the phone we all carry with their excellent video and photo abilities, and the growth of surveillance cameras. Do we face a future where we’re being recorded by drone-mounted video cameras, too?