Sorry to drone on…

At last week’s tech show in Las Vegas there buzz was all about one thing, drones. It seems that you can now get almost any type; big drones, small drones, pink drones, selfie drones, drones on a stick!

It isn’t just the techys that are getting all hot under the collar either. At Christmas at least three of my friends and my god son (who is only five) got one as well. I even noticed that the BBC used one to get footage from above of the Hoegh Osaka cargo ship that had beached on the sand bank in the Solent last week.

It would seem that these drones are everywhere, or at least they will be soon. And whilst it is incredibly fun to waste ten minutes of your life trying to stop the thing crashing (the batteries only last for ten minutes) it does raise a few concerns.

In the USA there are already some laws in place about the usage of drones. The FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) strictly regulate the commercial use of drones there, but this doesn’t yet extend to privacy. The BBC’s use of a drone for footage demonstrate the potential issues well. Whilst hovering over a stranded ship isn’t a problem, it does become a problem when one is hovering over your house.

Last year a case arose when a woman noticed that a billboard featuring an aerial shot of the housing estate she lived in had been erected. The problem was that she had been sunbathing topless in her garden whilst the shot had been taken and she was therefore featured in the photo. She contacted the company who were advertising with the image and it was duly changed, red faces (and other parts) were avoided and life goes on. But this is where the problems start. Although the image was taken from sufficient enough a height that her face wasn’t visible, nonetheless she should have been able to assume that her back garden was a place of privacy. Instead her privacy was invaded. I’m sure most of us find this story quite funny, but the fact that drones are cheap means that it will make getting photographs of areas that are otherwise off limits is now easier than ever.

You might ask the question “it isn’t really that bad, is it?” But lets put this into perspective for a moment with a couple of scenarios. The world was up in arms a couple of years ago when a French pap managed to photograph a topless Kate Middleton from over a wall. She was in a resort and should have been safe from prying eyes but Pervy Le Pew still got his shot and a magazine still published it. If he’d had a drone then his shot might have been a lot closer and a lot more invasive. But no one really cares about celebrities and Royals do they? They’ve got it coming.

So here is scenario number two. Your children are playing in the paddling pool in your enclosed garden on a hot sunny day and over comes a drone with a camera attached. It catches images of your children which are beamed back to the dark hole that some horrible character resides in and then they add them to the personal collection on their laptop, or worse, the web. Access to this technology opens up whole new ways for pedophiles to access images in a way that we currently have no real way to stop. Personally the idea of someone hovering their little machine outside of my bathroom window whilst I’m taking a wee doesn’t exactly cheer me up.

Which presents another question, what are acceptable actions to take to protect your privacy? Would it be acceptable if one of these little gadgets came hovering over my garden wall to hit it with  baseball bat. And if it was hovering above my house at 50 feet, in ‘my airspace’, could I take a pot shot at it? I am guessing that before the dust had even settled I’d have a claim for damages on my hands. And bearing in mind we live in a country now where a burglar can break his leg whilst breaking into a house and win damages for it, I’d probably have to pay up as well.

Another consideration is that if we all go out and buy one of these things and start flying it around then the sky is going to be blackened by a locust swarm of the things. And if people fly them like they drive cars then the courts are going to be very busy with damage claims. The potential for crashes will be huge, not to mention what happens when Granny Ethel gets one round the face on the way home from the shop. She won’t be able to get any treatment because the A&E has declared a crisis and she won’t get a doctors appointment because no one can cope with a cold any more.

So what to do? I suppose at the moment it doesn’t much matter because by the time you’ve got your drone in the air it has run out of battery. And if you do own one that can last for over ten minutes then it will probably crash before much damage can be done anyway. But soon enough the battery life will be improved and they will be much more stable, and then what? Well here is a novel suggestion, that you have to get a license in order to fly one and that includes both practical and moral sections. If you want to fly a drone then you should be able to prove you aren’t either a moron, deviant or pleb. The punishment for subsequently being caught acting like an arse? Well it’s obvious, you should have your genitals removed!

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