Drones to the left of me, drones to the right of me

Over the last several months, we’re hearing more and more about drones. In the mainstream media, we learn that military drones are being used to target al-Qaeda operatives in the Middle East. In the slightly off-mainstream media, such as Wired magazine, we’re learning that drones are being used here in the United States for other purposes.

Drones are unmanned flying vehicles that can do a variety of things. They can monitor crops, for example. They can also carry cameras to photograph, well, plenty of things that might raise plenty of questions and more.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has successfully compelled the Federal Aviation Administration to release a whole slew of documents about domestic drones. Looking at the list, it’s a little disturbing to see some of the entities that the FAA has licensed to operate drones. Why, for example, are local police departments using drones? Some uses might be beneficial to the public at large, such as monitoring traffic conditions on busy roads. Those conditions can be pushed out to a network to help commuters know what lies ahead on the interstate.

But drones could also be used for surveillance. The Supreme Court has already expressed discomfort at the idea of police placing a GPS tracker on a vehicle without a warrant. Would that extend to drones being used to track a vehicle? The answer is far from certain.

It is well accepted that technology moves at lightspeed compared to the law. Drones are merely the latest instance that will require our society to do some thinking about what limits should be placed on their use. Inevitably we will come across incidents that we find creepy, as well as uses that seem harmless. Those cases help shape what eventually becomes the law of the land. It’s impossible to know what drones will do to shape our laws, but it will be an interesting time to be alive.


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