Drones provide a variety of applications ranging from aerial photography to crop inventory (for farmers) to delivery and much more. Yet drones remain a controversial tool, with surveillance among the top controversial uses.
“Surveillance drones or unmanned aerial systems (UASs) raise significant issues for privacy and civil liberties,” says those behind the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Drones are capable highly advanced surveillance, and drones already in use by law enforcement can carry various types of equipment including live-feed video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also states that personal drones are also capable of carrying wifi “crackers” and fake cell phone towers for determining location and intercepting texts and phone calls.
The American Civil Liberties Union echos these claims, and notes that drones “equipped with with facial recognition software, infrared technology, and speakers capable of monitoring personal conversations would cause unprecedented invasions of our privacy rights. Interconnected drones could enable mass tracking of vehicles and people in wide areas. Tiny drones could go completely unnoticed while peering into the window of a home or place of worship.
American law enforcement is believed to be expanding its use of surveillance drones, while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently finalizing regulations concerning U.S. commercial drone usage.
“The rule will be in place within a year,” FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Hopefully before June 17, 2016,” he added.
The FAA estimates as many as 30,000 drones in U.S. skies by 2020, with the EFF stating privacy laws have not kept up with the “rapid pace” of drone technology. The association has faced pressure from both lawmakers and industry lobbyists, with the latter claiming U.S. businesses are “losing billions in potential savings and revenue” by waiting for regulation.
Whatever the FAA decides, it will have a dramatic impact on drones as surveillance tools among their other applications.