In Capitol Hill Seattle’s complaints blog, a woman has reported a stranger flying a drone near her house and refusing to leave.
“I initially mistook its noisy buzzing for a weed-whacker,” the resident said. “After several minutes, I looked out my third story window to see a drone hovering a few feet away”.
Her husband approached the man, but he insisted it was perfectly legal to fly an aerial drone over her garden. The pilot was using a drone equipped with a camera and wearing glasses, which transmit the images he was observing using the UAV, and claimed to be doing research.
“We are extremely concerned,” the resident said, “as he could very easily be a criminal who plans to break into our house or a peeping tom”. She called the police but they did not pursue the pilot after he left, and is wondering if there had been any other sightings of the pilot around the Capitol Hill area.
The mysterious drone operator may be perfectly right. Legislation on new technologies can often take some time to catch up with the technologies themselves, and it’s perfectly possible he was technically operating within the law.
As the Atlantic notes, talking to a Harvard public policy expert, there would be multiple questions to determine the legality of the drone – like what type of drone it was, and how it was flown. It could have been flown in accordance with FAA regulations. And, crucially, what exactly was being photographed, and if that was in line with the First Amendment.
This case hammers home the immediate extent of privacy violations made possible by camera-equipped UAVs, but many more Americans are worried that drones operated by the state could be even more intrusive.
In a recent radio interview, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg alluded to approaching a new age with even less personal privacy where drone use is just an every day reality for surveillance organisations. “We’re going into a different world, uncharted… you can’t keep the tide from coming in,” Bloomberg said.
So while consumer creeps may use legal loopholes to conduct their “research” over your back garden – the State itself expects to have a full fleet of UAVs, some with facial recognition, and up to 10,000 commercial drones over US skies by 2020, as the FAA predicted earlier this year.
Of course, drones will also commonly have less menacing uses – like efficient search and rescue in remote areas, for example.