Now that police and emergency personnel have started using UAVs, their safe use is being vigorously discussed by many.
There is an old saying that seems to apply to the booming UAV industry in the United States. Want to know what motivates companies and a lot of individuals? Just follow the money.
The FAA is predicting that there will be about 30,000 UAVs flying around in the United States airspace by 2020. That is only about seven years away. I do not think I need to point out that there is a lot of money to be made here. Large defense contractors lobbied the FAA hard to open up the airspace. They correctly predicted that they would be in a prime position to supply products and services to commercial and public sector clients.
Big players and big business also means that the UAV industry is attracting a lot of attention. Large news organizations and government agencies are taking a very close look to see what is going on and what we can expect in the future.
The Associated Press and The National Constitution Center conducted a survey last month of 1,000 Americans. The first link below points to this document. Look on pages three and four for the survey questions on UAVs (they call them drones).
I first heard of this survey by reading an online article that interpreted the findings. The article (also linked to below) was very happy to report that only 35% of Americans were either extremely or very concerned about police use of UAVs.
Are you kidding me? If I were about to introduce a new product and 35% of the potential customers told me they hated the very concept of it, I would be very worried.
Chiefs of Police
The Aviation Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a guideline document on the use of UAVs by police forces. Yes, the link is below too.
This is a good document and it is only three pages long. I encourage you to read it. It stresses the importance of buy-in by those who would be subjected to surveillance by UAVs. It also underscores the need for accountability, safety, and overall reliability.
The Congressional Research Service also issued a related document very recently. Entitled Drones in Domestic Surveillance Operations, it was written by a lawyer and does not make for the easiest reading. The report assesses the use of drones under the Fourth Amendment. This constitutional amendment asserts our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Interestingly, the report predicts that as technology advances, the contours of what is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment may adjust as people’s expectations of privacy evolve.
Other Voices in the Discussion
Many other organizations are weighing in on the use of UAVs. Links to some of these recent articles are below. I am not saying that they are impartial neutral observers, but it would be a mistake not to listen to what they are saying too.
Even if you have no interest in flying UAVs, should you care about the outcome of these discussions? In a word, yes. The FAA and Congress are listening very carefully to public opinion on these privacy and safety issues. Laws are getting rewritten as a result. The AMA is doing an excellent job of protecting our rights as RC pilots, but they are not all-powerful.
I do not think that the average person on the street can identify something flying through the air as an UAV, FPV, or RC aircraft. Frankly, I do not think I could either. Being mindful of the privacy of others and making sure you stay on the right side of the law is the only prudent way to fly.