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Drones In The Hands Of The Paparazzi? It's An Ethics And Privacy Minefield

Publication Date: 
January 22, 2012
The Guardian
Becky Hogge

Director of Privacy and Robotics at the Center for Internet and Society Ryan Calo spoke with The Guardian's Becky Hogge on the potential use of commercial drones by the paparazzi.

Whether you view them as model aeroplanes for grown-ups or the handmaidens of the killer robot, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are taking off in earnest.

In the 1930s and 1940s the UK developed an unmanned, radio-controlled "Queen Bee" drone, a variant of the Tiger Moth, for target practice. But the United States and Israel have pioneered the use of drones on the battlefield, with the first operational armed strike by a drone taking place in Afghanistan in 2001. Since then, the use of drones in the military arena for surveillance and targeting has risen at a startling pace, and in 2012 we will see drones appearing closer to home. It is widely anticipated that they will be used as a security measure during the London Olympics, and pressure is mounting on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to re-examine regulations governing UAVs in order to open up what military companies believe will be a valuable civilian market.


While we might get excited by the potential for the use of commercial drones by citizen journalists to live-stream powerful footage from protests, we are likely to be less thrilled once drones are in the hands of the paparazzi. M Ryan Calo of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society wrote recently of his hopes for drones acting as a "privacy catalyst", explaining that while we might be able to overlook the inability of current privacy law to protect us from technologies we cannot see, like the blanket retention of our communications data by internet companies for law enforcement, once the issue is buzzing overhead it will be harder to ignore.