I heard it buzzing overhead. It grew louder with each passing second, like a swarm of mosquitos headed at you on a summer’s day. It was a small commercial drone falling out of the sky, headed toward me because its battery had run out. I dove out of its way into the bushes. As I lay among the brambles, I began to question the true purpose of commercial drones.
The use of drones in warfare increased steadily over the last 10 years, but commercial use has yet to be fully exploited. Companies like Amazon and UPS are exploring options to use drones to help ship products to customers more efficiently. Hollywood is beginning to utilize drones on film shoots. We have known drones only as agents of war overseas, and have failed to consider their possible impact in the domestic United States. I was startled to confront a drone directly in Brooklyn, hovering over a walkway along the Brooklyn Bridge, unknown to most but its owner controlling it a few feet away.
Technology has simplified life, while increasingly making it less secure. Commercial drones pose a serious threat to the individual right to privacy. Drones have the ability to fly far above, unseen from the common eye. They are powered with high-quality cameras, allowing them to shoot images of the earth from a far distance.
If individual humans or businesses are allowed to fly drones, there is a high potential for abuse. Suddenly, the ability of a stranger to see into one’s backyard, fly over one’s home or follow one’s path to work exists. Such unfettered access is not only dangerous — it’s excessive.
Over the summer, Martha Stewart published an Op-Ed in Time called, “Why I Love My Drone.” She explained her desire to photograph her 153-acre property in Long Island, to view the beautiful work of a “good landscape design” and challenged her readers to “imagine what Louis XIV could have accomplished at Versailles if he’d had one.” Versailles is among the most beautiful palaces in the world, but I’m sure that the aristocratic King Louis did not want everyone else seeing it too. Martha Stewart explained that the main reason she believes in drone usage is that there is no use suppressing a technology we already possess. Her opinion struck a chord with many who believe that simply because they own a technology and want to use it, they should be allowed to use it without restriction. Recent surveillance abuses suggest we must show greater hesitation in legally permitting others to pilot a drone over someone else’s yard.
There is no overwhelming necessity for personal drone use, given the potential abuses that could emerge as the result of the Federal Communications Commission legalization. Drones are powerful toys that take away more than they provide — eliminating the right to privacy in exchange for access to beautiful landscapes. We cannot function in a world in which your neighbor has the ability to spy on you.
As I remained hiding in the bushes, unsure of what had really happened, the owner ran over to pick up the bits and pieces of his thousand-dollar drone. When I asked him what he needed it for, he responded, “I’m not even sure.”