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article imageOp-Ed: Drones as aerial paparazzi, stupidity, privacy invasion and more

By Paul Wallis     Feb 17, 2013 in Technology
Sydney - Just when you think drones are a curse, they get worse. The new “smart” form of journalistic photography is drone-based. That’s very bad news for the public and for privacy in many ways, although there are some uses in real journalism.
Some observations from the Sydney Morning Herald:
''Kate Middleton and many other people besides can rest assured that their bare breasts are fair game, anywhere, any time,'' the Australian Privacy Foundation's Roger Clarke warned, in a week when snaps of the pregnant Duchess in a bikini made international headlines.
Last year a New South Wales resident filed a complaint after spotting a drone hovering outside their bedroom window, Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim said.
Australian media organisations conducting journalism with drones and individuals flying them around the street are not covered by the Privacy Act. Pilgrim believes this and the "potentially intrusive nature of the technology" mean a public debate about the use of drones is needed.
That’s not quite accurate, in my opinion. Prima facie, any kind of personally intrusive surveillance is at least in theory a breach of privacy under the law, whether the type of surveillance is “covered” specifically or not. You’d have a basis for claim for breach of privacy under those circumstances, regardless of the means of invasion of privacy.
That said, the law has been appallingly slow in catching up with this new, potentially nasty nuisance. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only a few states have introduced laws in relation to domestic surveillance drones.
Why, exactly, these new toys somehow have precedence over basic rights to privacy is open to debate. There is no “right of snooping” in any nation on Earth, except for lawful purposes. You’re not allowed to use other means to invade people’s privacy, so why should drones be any different?
The really nasty possibilities of drones
If you want to get picky- and I do- drones have a lot of weak spots at law and in terms of practical issues:
1. A drone can be considered a form of trespass, if it’s over private or public airspace.
2. A drone is by definition wilfully controlled- The operator has no defence against any claim of premeditated use.
3. Drones are vulnerable. It’s not hard to visualize a situation where someone might open fire on a drone in a suburban area. Just what the world needs- More excuses for hails of gunfire in the burbs.
4. Phones can be hacked. It’d be very easy to find out who’s using a drone, possibly with very dangerous consequences for the users. It’d also give a lot of incentives to people to learn how to hack phones more effectively, creating yet another disaster for privacy as collateral damage to the public interest.
5. Drones can theoretically be used against drones. A “security drone”, particularly with a high grunt engine, could destroy other drones in the air. A pleasant vista of drones dropping out of the sky on people’s heads and cars is a likely outcome.
6. Drone control signals can be jammed. That means a drone may either fall or roam around in the air as a hazard, perhaps crashing into a building or hitting power lines.
7. Even better, the jamming could knock out all other phones in the area including emergency services.
8. Cheap drones will probably give terrorists a few ideas about how to create serious trouble and deliver things like biological agents and chemicals.
So- Are we happy now?
Another highly destructive option for an incredibly stupid society is now in play. No possible good can come out of any of these scenarios. Well done. How these self-proclaimed geniuses stay out of lab experiments is an issue which really must be addressed sometime.
The positives for media, such as they are
The only real positives for media, and real journalists, not the Easy Bake/ I’ve always wanted to see boobs variety, is that risks in covering dangerous places can be reduced, if not entirely prevented. Coverage of disasters, war zones and relief operations could become a lot better and certainly a lot safer. Sydney Morning Herald demonstrates some good photographic production options, too.
Journalists should note, however, that the issues above also apply to them. A hacker will probably have no trouble at all finding out who’s using the drone. Others will know how to sabotage your work, too, so don’t assume the drones are a license to print money. They could bring serious, very unpleasant risks, too.
For celebrity culture, media drones can be seen as one disease feeding off another disease. I wish the culture and its associated useless parasites every success in making life as miserable for itself as it makes life for the public, whose interests are ignored in the quest for more vital information about someone’s backside. Roll on the lawsuits, by all means.
Note- The video shows a legitimate journalistic use of a drone to cover a sealed off road in Poland during a riot in 2011. This drone was also home made. You'll notice the drone is quite stable, and that resolution, apparently not using a DSLR, is pretty good. The drone successfully got video where videos were not exactly popular and possibly risky to take.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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