Letter: Preparing for Civilian Drones

To the Editor:

Kudos to the Valley News for publishing the article “Civilian Drone Age Upon Us” on March 30.

Drones are here for anyone with a modicum of means and a motive to buy. Google recently advertised a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 for as low as $299.95 in the Apple Store. It’s another affordable technological toy.

Congress passed a law last year requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to “open U.S. skies to widespread drone flights by 2015.” The agency estimates that 7,500 civilian drones will be in use within five years after gaining broader access.

Clearly, entrepreneurs now have a large window of opportunity. Your article underscores some beneficial uses of drones: conducting surveys, helping police find missing people, reconstructing traffic accidents, providing real estate agents with video shots of properties. It also notes that drones can be dangerous as well when used intrusively in continuous surveillance if equipped with high-power cameras and listening devices. And, though not noted, imagine drones equipped with powerful weapons targeting a population center. How frightening is that?

Can we be proactive in preparing for this technology? Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has introduced a bill requiring the FAA to issue drone licenses only if “the applicant provides a statement explaining who will operate the drone, where it will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how the data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties, and the period for which the information will be retained.”

Our society tends to be better at seeing profit-making opportunities than dealing with their deleterious consequences. We don’t seem to be willing to draw limits on technology’s use. Regulation, despite the near catastrophic collapse of our financial sector, remains a bad word. Background checks for gun purchases is regarded as an intrusion on our privacy and constitutional rights.

Let’s not provide an opening for the National Rifle Association to rant about the control of drones infringing on our rights. Rather, let’s have a rational discussion about the potential uses of drones, both good and bad, before suffering appalling consequences.

Bob Scobie



Civilian Drone Age Upon Us

Friday, March 29, 2013

Washington — The dawn of the age of aerial civilian drones is rich with possibilities for people far from the war zones where they made their devastating mark as a weapon of choice against terrorists. The unmanned, generally small aircraft can steer water and pesticides to crops with precision, saving farmers money while reducing environmental risk. They can inspect distant …