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OCT A1As some of the hottest gadgets on the market, personal drones are selling in record numbers worldwide. Although the biggest market remains the United States, consumers in Europe and China also find them irresistible, using them for fun, photography, and videography. For more serious-minded and business users, drones also have a variety of critical purposes, from Amazon’s proposed package delivery to hurricane and storm tracking efforts to military uses.

Or consider their applications at construction sites. Construction crews now can send drones hundreds of feet in the air to take up-to-the-minute digital images, map the progress of the construction, and identify where to install solar panels or other elements—without requiring any member of the crew to risk life and limb by climbing multiple stories and dangling a tape measure to get the information. Then those data can be shared with managers and clients throughout the world, without requiring them to visit the site itself.

But along with these notable benefits for business and consumers, the uses of drones have created some new privacy and ethical concerns. Unfortunately, drones enable unethical users to capture unsolicited and unwarranted images of others, intruding on the privacy and threatening the safety of some of their subjects. From stories of people spying on their neighbors to a drone that landed on the White House lawn, serious concerns surrounding the use of private drones continue, without a clear resolution. Furthermore, evidence that some national governments are seeking to extend their uses of drones, to establish massive “armies” of small devices that could swarm battlefields, leads some observers to suggest a serious ethical crisis with potentially global implications.

Thus far in the United States, no legislation or regulations limit the uses of drones, by individuals, companies, or government agencies. But the tide may be turning; a recently proposed bill would establish specific privacy protections in relation to drones. The challenge these laws face though is finding a way to impose reasonable privacy limits, without hindering the useful, fun, and effective applications of these innovative devices by ethical businesses and consumers.

Discussion Question:

  1. What sort of privacy and ethical concerns have drones created?


Source:  Nick Madigan, “Need a Quick Inspection of a 58-Story Tower? Send a Drone,” The New York Times, August 14, 2018; Amia Srinivasan, “What Termites Can Teach Us,” The New Yorker, September 17, 2018; April Glaser, “Federal Privacy Laws Won’t Necessarily Protect You from Spying Devices,” Recode.net, March 15, 2017