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Sat., Aug. 29
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Drones at home


Drone stalking. Drone trespassing. They are not crimes now, but they could become commonplace in the future as the Federal Aviation Administrations takes a step toward opening the skies above your backyard to unmanned drones.

Acting under a legislative mandate, the FAA is looking for a half-dozen sites around the country to test widespread civilian use of the unmanned craft by 2015. The tests are expected to determine how the remotely controlled aircraft can be safely integrated into U.S. airspace without presenting a safety hazard to other aircraft and passengers.

Military style drones are already being used along the borders. Much smaller drones are used now by law enforcement agencies to conduct remote searches, for crowd control or to monitor a crime scene. Police now rely on unarmed drones, but at least one model can be equipped with a grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun for aerial assaults.

Other non-military users can include power companies to check transmission lines and farmers to monitor their crops. However, the federal plan envisions vastly expanded use. The FAA foresees as many as 10,000, much smaller civilian drones flying the skies in the next five years. The test sites are being pitched as job creators. For the industry, wider civilian use could open up a multimillion dollar market.

But there are legal and privacy implications in their use as identified by a recent Congressional Research Service report entitled, “Integration of Drones Into Domestic Airspace: Selected Legal Issues.” Civilian use raises the possibility that drones could be used by paparazzi to peek behind a fence, to harass a neighbor or to stalk someone.

According to the study reported by Slate, “Traditional crimes such as stalking, harassment, voyeurism, and wiretapping may all be committed through the operation of a drone. As drones are further introduced into the national airspace, courts will have to work this new form of technology into their jurisprudence, and legislatures might amend these various statutes to expressly include crimes committed with a drone.”

Along with privacy concerns, civil liberties groups fear drones will be used to bypass the constitutional limitations on unreasonable searches. Legislation has been introduced on the state and federal levels to establish guidelines and restrict drone use.

As tests go forward, regulators must be cognizant of the need to protect privacy and constitutional rights.

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