Eyes-in-the-Sky: Drones, Data and Privacy

Technological advances in unmanned aircraft for recreational and commercial use, coupled with the availability of smaller and higher definition video cameras, heralds a huge increase in the ability to document real-world personal lives and commercial activities, not seen since the advent of CCTV. These “eyes in the sky” have the potential to give even the most casual snooper the ability to be far more discerning in his target, and far more revealing in his output; all broadcast online. Regular use by public and local authorities will soon follow giving a cloak of legitimacy to the harvesting information over a wide area. Meritorious use of drones in surveying, photography and recreation will have accidental or incidental consequences for not only the passer-by, but also the passed-by. New drone capabilities renew very necessary questions over privacy, data protection and ethical issues. Worries abound from simple breaches of a neighbour’s privacy to the threat of constant, persistent state surveillance. Identifying and safeguarding against risks and vulnerabilities will be critical in building a successful drone industry – one that can balance growth with our own personal rights.