In the world lived in today, there are already so many examples of invasions of privacy. Now, this new toy is adding to the pile, and it will only get worse if nothing is done about it. People can easily access information on anyone simply by typing their name into a search engine. Now, very powerful imaging by small aerial vehicles can be used to get privacy of their very own home.
In July of 2015, 47-year-old William Meredith was in his backyard with his wife and children. They were enjoying time in their swimming pool when a drone started hovering over his yard. He had no idea of the intentions of this drone, and did not know if it was recording his family. His solution was to get his shotgun and shoot it down. He later decided to sue the owner of the drone, because he felt he should have privacy in his own backyard and he should know the intentions of the drone flying over him. He felt he had the right to shoot it down. However, he was sued for destruction of property. Yes, this is a very severe reaction taken by Mr. Meredith. However, was it what we needed to get this issue into our sight?
This is not the only case concerning individuals and their private property being invaded by drones. How would you like to be sitting in your backyard, at your home, with your family being watched by a vehicle that you do not know the purpose of? This is happening to people because of the lack of rules having to do with privacy and drones.
Drones are aerial vehicles that have more visual power than the naked eye. According to epic.org, “Surveillance drones are equipped with sophisticated imaging technology that provides the ability to obtain detailed photographs of terrain, people, homes, and even small objects.” There are some laws created by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regarding drones.
One law requires government owned drones to only be flying through the air with a COA (Certificate of Authorization). In 2012, according to the FAA, they have issued more than 300 drone licenses and there is little information provided to the public about the purpose of these drones. This is only a partial solution to this problem, however, because it only restricts
the federal government. Local police and private owners can still fly their drones without consent.
Anyone who has a drone can secretly take pictures and record anyone. Even though there are punishments in place for the publications of images without consent of the people, the punishments aren’t severe if someone really wanted to hurt the person being photographed/watched. “Punishable up to 180 days in jail or a fine of $2,000” said law enforcement in Amarillo, Texas. That is not a very stiff penalty. This is just the limit. Usually there is a floor, or minimum, but no ceiling, or maximum. However, here there is a ceiling but no floor. This means that if a judge feels that a specific person wasn’t guilty, they can let them free: even if there were images of people as evidence against them. And someone could be decided guilty, and still let free. This brings concern to many people, because they feel they aren’t safe from this privacy violation–even in their private home.
On the other hand, drones can be used by the army to see dangerous places. Drones can be used to find terrorist bases and scope out dangerous areas that could potentially kill our troops. Remotely controlled aerial vehicles have been used to keep an eye out for terrorists in third world countries. This is a positive to drones that should be easily ready to the government to protect the U.S., its people, and the troops.
The U.S. doesn’t want to kill the troops, but also doesn’t want them abusing their power. People don’t see the U.S. Army having drones to search for terrorists as an issue. It is unclear if the government having these privileges will be misused. However, people don’t want them to be able to use drone technology to watch us in public places without a warrant.
The government isn’t the only one who has access to drone technology. Drones can be bought in toy stores and online. They are readily available to the general public who don’t, by law, need a warrant to use them.
Search and Seizure
Drones should be treated like search and seizure law. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Drones are used by law enforcement to go into potentially dangerous places or to spy secretly to catch potential criminals in the act. This is helpful, but how do we know if it is a law enforcement drone or a private owner? All drones look exactly the same. There should be a difference that everyone should know about to know if it is the government and law enforcement or a random drone owner.
Cameras Always Watching
To prevent misuse of drone capabilities, the government should instate a COA for private owners. If there is no COA, then the drone owner can be punished because of the magnitude of the photos or videos recorded by the drone. The use of drones is similar to the issue of police having body cameras. Police who currently have body cameras are allowed to make the videos they capture available for view by the public. If police can use both body cameras for ground views and drones for aerial views, people will have no privacy at all.
The final decision on the court case of Meredith was in favor of Meredith, even though the recording provided by the drone owner showed that there was no misuse of the drone to record Meredith and his family. The judge ignored that evidence and decided to free Meredith of charges, because there was no way for Meredith to have known the purpose of the drone flying overhead. Even though this case has been decided in favor of privacy, the U.S. government still needs to create laws to prevent this from happening further.
This issue doesn’t just apply to regular citizens. Celebrities of the modern world already have little to no privacy because of paparazzi and obsessive fans. If people have simple access to drones with cameras that can fly and maneuver through spaces not accessible to an average human, the already diminishing privacy available to famous people people will be reduced to absolutely nothing.
It is our job as citizens, nay, as victims to make this privacy issue be apparent to the government. To prevent further implications of this event from happening to other citizens of America, it is society’s job to make the government create laws to better protect the privacy of itself and its people.
Calo, Ryan M. “The Drone as Privacy Catalyst.” Stanford Law Review. N.p., 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. “EPIC – Domestic Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Drones.” EPIC – Domestic Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles (UAVs) and Drones. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Feb. 2016. “Domestic Drones.” ACLU. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. “Drones”: An Invasion of Privacy?” News Channel 10. N.p., 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
Zhang, Michael. “Judge Says Man Had Right to Shoot Down Drone That Was Invading His Privacy.” Php Bloginfoname RSS. N.p., 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.