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As Drones Become More Common, Privacy Concerns Arise

Tana Weingartner
As of March, at least 1,578 state and local public safety agancies in the U.S. had drones. Seventy percent were law enforcement bodies.

U.S. cities and their residents are being preemptive to protect privacy when it comes to an increasing number of drones with cameras.

Westport, Connecticut, police had plans to deploy specialized drones to monitor if people were socially distancing. But the ACLU complained, and this spring the department scrapped the plan, according to The Verge.

Drones were one way police monitored Black Lives Matter protests across the country. That concerns The Brookings Institute.

"Despite American law enforcement's embrace of aerial surveillance by drone, there is no national framework governing their use and how police make use of the data collected by the thousands of drones being flown by thousands of the machines across the United States," the think tank says.

FAA regulations a still evolving. They do not address privacy issues. The agency tells pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.

Credit Almantas Palubinskas / Courtesy of Almantas Palubinskas
Courtesy of Almantas Palubinskas
Almantas Palubinskas.

Syracuse graduate student Almantas Palubinskas studies how regulations affect different kinds of innovations and their impact on industries. "Privacy has been a concern from the very start," he says. "Most companies are already aware of this and have been trying to anonymize the data they collect."

Palubinskas encourages people to talk to local and state authorities to have their voices heard.

What Are States Doing?

In California, there is the "Paparazzi Law," which says drones cannot fly above residences and invade privacy. You don't have to be famous to benefit. It also protects average citizens.

In Connecticut, Palubinskas says the state went too far. "They tried to create flight regulations that superseded the FAA and it was ultimately thrown out because that's not legal."

States are increasingly taking a look at regulations. As of September, there were 1.7 million drones, 500,000 of them commercial. Palubinskas says most deliveries will be from 40 feet in the air and that will mitigate privacy concerns.

"I think there will be some hesitant communities where people just aren't used to having these flying above them all the time," he says. "So I think we may see some communities have a designated landing zone instead of allowing drones to fly from door to door." 

Want a drone to control? Aquiline Drones has a mobile app that will let its clients book a drone service on demand, according to Tech News World. They can "execute missions, live stream data and videos and get real0time data insights" via the app.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.