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It’s Getting Easier To Fly Drones In The U.S.

Publication Date: 
May 31, 2012
PBS - Frontline
Sarah Childress

Director of Privacy and Robotics at the Center for Internet and Society M. Ryan Calo spoke with Sarah Childress of PBS Frontline on the potential use of drone surveillance by police forces.

Ben Miller’s drones are some of the latest bots to fly in American skies.

The manager for the drone program at the sheriff’s office in Mesa County, Colo., Miller uses his machines — small enough to fit in the back of an SUV — to track bad guys and rescue lost hikers.

“One of these days, someone will bring a lost child back to their parents” with the help of a drone, he said. “From a law enforcement perspective, that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to improve public safety.”


“They’re right and they’re wrong,” said Ryan Calo, an incoming law professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who has taught at Stanford University on the questions surrounding privacy and robotics. “The law won’t treat a helicopter any different than the use of a drone, likely. But drone surveillance is so much more cost effective and efficient… The incentives for police officers to engage in surveillance is higher, and the obstacles are lower.”

Calo said that current U.S. privacy laws haven’t caught up to new technology. There’s currently no legal expectation of privacy for a person strolling down a street, for example. Should that change if the street is filmed 24 hours each day by a camera equipped with facial-recognition software?

“We don’t have good examples that are getting people riled up,” he said. “Drones are a good candidate that will make people focus in on this issue.”