(Source: The Hill)
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Washington this week, I wonder if he and President Obama will commiserate over the drones invading their personal space. Last week, a lightly radioactive drone was found on the roof of the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo; last January, an employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency accidentally crashed his personal UAV on the White House lawn. Neither incident was considered a serious threat, but both are gravely concerning. Today, lawmakers worldwide are sleepwalking through a privacy and security crisis. How many secure sites have to be compromised before we wake up to the full challenges posed by commercial and law enforcement UAVs – or, in common parlance, by drones?
The Federal Aviation Administration unveiled rules this February that would make it much easier to operate drones in the United States: for law enforcement agencies conducting surveillance, for commercial firms, and for private individuals. Make no mistake: eventually, the last two groups could include bad actors, even terrorists. It’s hard to overstate how undercooked the debate on this future is. The stakes are high; our privacy and our security are at risk.
The implications for privacy and surveillance are huge. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that tracking a car using an attached GPS beacon, without a warrant, is unconstitutional. But what if police use a roving drone instead? That debate is raging in Virginia now, which two years ago imposed a two-year moratorium on warrantless drone surveillance. That’s where most of the regulatory action is happening on this issue: in concerned states and municipalities across the country. At the federal level, we have a leadership vacuum. With a technological revolution on its way, Washington is AWOL. How do you square this new world with our Constitution? As Brookings Institution senior fellow John Villasenor said in 2012, “The FAA, I would imagine, has more aviation lawyers than Fourth Amendment constitutional lawyers.”
Then there are the new security challenges. Authorities have a poor track record detecting small aircraft that fly where they shouldn’t. In 2010, a Mexican government drone went down in an El Paso backyard; though NORAD later said it had been tracking the plane, local officials seem to have been taken entirely by surprise. This month, a postal employee flew a (manned) gyrocopter to Capitol Hill through some of the most restricted airspace in the country. Incidents like these severely undermine confidence in our preparedness. One day, one of the craft slipping under our radar will do us harm.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com