Privacy…A Big Concern
Perhaps one of the biggest real concerns from the public is privacy. It’s one of the more common local proposals and is a commonly cited fear of public officials and nay sayers. As drones become more ubiquitous and more capable, these problems will become greater. It’s unfortunate, because many of us use them as intended and responsibly. Unfortunately, since it’s so easy and cheap to get some very capable aircraft, we continue to see some people do some very dumb things that get a lot of attention. We’ve seen stories of drones hitting airplanes, drones hitting the space needle, numerous Peeping Tom stories and so many others. Probably most of us know someone locally with a story of a neighbor that has buzzed them, peeped on them or done something similarly irresponsible. (My wife was at a birthday part with ourrecently and had to listen to stories from another mom who had a neighbor that kept buzzing the kids, chasing them and just being overall annoying and we live inside Class D airspace! I’m sure he got approval first.)
Avoiding the Panic
As we all know, drones bring with them a lot of business opportunities. Sadly, as they become more prolific, they also bring a lot of silly things that make it bad for the rest of us. They definitely can be used to terrorize the neighbors, interfere with emergency services and any number of things. The unfortunate part is that the rest of us will suffer as new laws are passed. I have to wonder, though, will it matter?
Many of the things that we’re talking about are already illegal in some form or fashion and yet they go on. The current rules aren’t enforced. This is happening for a variety of reasons, many of them good. Drones have highlighted a long blurry line between FAA and local authority. They’ve brought up concepts of “reasonable” expectations of privacy. They blur the line between a helicopter, which you can’t miss and a camera, which can’t easily be used to be as intrusive. It also seems that there isn’t a good understanding between law enforcement and FAA about who has what responsibility. The public wants more rules and perhaps that will help clear it up, but just as likely, it will make more rules that won’t be uniformly enforced.
Which raises another problem. Drones are prolific, or getting more so, but organizations like the FAA isn’t staffed to enforce all these rules. We probably couldn’t afford them to be. What we can afford, and I suspect we will see more of, is for high-profile, very big fines and penalties as seems to be playing out in the Seattle case. While I’m all for punishing the willful, we need to be careful about the ignorant. If this rule set is confusing for the government, it’s doubly so for us and we could just as easily make a mistake or miss a rule we didn’t know existed. More rules aren’t going to help with that.
What Can We Do?
There are a number of things we can do. We all need to employ our own best practices to avoid privacy issues. We need to be above the complaints and ensure we aren’t part of the problem. Then, we can look to others for help. Here are some ideas each of us can employ to help this cause and avoid privacy complaints for ourselves and to keep them down as an industry.
Make sure you follow what you wrote down. Make sure you wrote down what you will and can follow. Don’t share anything without permission and don’t end up with your drone in a questionable spot. Many people are scared of these things. As a community, we need to show that this is just like cell phones, the internet and almost everything else in our lives capable of spying on us. Good practices and honest practices let folks focus on the bad guys and not us.
Be Active, Educate and Advocate
We all need to be active. Understand the issues and help others understand them when they have questions or comments. Don’t argue, educate. Help them understand the technology and the issues and what the rules already are. Speak out to your lawmakers when something unreasonable is proposed or consider working with them to make it better. Some of the rules out there just aren’t that bad. Others are….odd. You might also consider joining groups like the AUVSI, Academy of Model Aeronautics or Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). AOPA has been effectively advocating for pilots for years and just recently started including drone pilots. There are plenty of opportunities out there to learn more and to effectively advocate for what we need in a responsible way.
There’s a new group that I just learned about that may be worth checking out. They are advocating for fewer local rules and more sensible rules overall. The organization’s name is Network of Drone Enthusiasts (NODE). They have some big sponsors like DJI and Dronebase. More of us supporting it (I just joined) will help out.
We’re seeing a lot more advocacy, which is good. It falls on us to make sure that we are educated, we know the issues, and we understand what’s frustrating those around us. These things are scary. It’s frightening have something that you think can look at you at almost any place and any time. Add to that media about spying and the CIA and hacking and all sorts of other risks and it’s really scary to think that your neighbors the government or the police could anytime be peeking in on what you’re doing.
We all know that most of us are using drones for fun or to make a business. And we have no desire to spy on someone or to violate their privacy. Of course, in flying them sometimes are going to fly over someone’s property or we’re going to be able to see into their property and that just feeds the fears. We need to do what we can to make sure they understand what it is we’re doing and to protect them from the people who aren’t acting responsibly.
At the same time, and many are doing this, we can advocate for sensible rules that we can follow and that we can live with. Some of the rules that we’ve seen in various states really make some sense. We need to make more rules like that. The good news is that if we know those rules are out there and if they come from an agency or body that we can follow in any place and any time then that actually makes the world better for us and a whole lot less confusing. The hard thing for us in many respects isn’t following the rules, it’s knowing that the rules are out there for us to follow. Or having rules that actually conflict and figuring out what to do with those. One of the podcasts I listen to regularly is the Drone Law Podcast. Some days I wonder if that’s a good idea because many of the scenarios that they discuss you almost need to be a lawyer to understand. It’s a great education, though from someone who cares and someone who understands the issues.
Do what you can educate yourself and educate those around you and to advocate for rules that makes sense. It’s not going to help us to advocate for no rules, we’re not going to get that and we probably shouldn’t. Our best opportunity is to be responsible, educated and understand what’s frustrating others and what we can do about it.