Attack of the drones: privacy at CES 2013, day 2

We walked the halls and navigated the booths at 2013 CES to share some of the most interesting privacy-impacting tech products. Today’s topic: drones, small flying robots with plenty of cool–and creepy–uses.

Primarily used by the military at first, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have expanded into civic and commercial spheres, doing everything from surveillance, firefighting, border patrols, and research. Their surveillance powers are quite significant: many carry facial recognition cameras, thermal imaging detectors, license plate scanners, WiFi sniffers, and other sensors.

 

But drones aren’t just for government employees or scientists anymore: now regular people can own them. We saw a demo of Parrot’s AR Drone 2.0 at CES. At just under 2 feet long and under 5 pounds, the drones can hover in midair, do flips, and maneuver smoothly while carrying a stabilized video camera on board. Owners can control them with iOS and Android apps.

Parrot AR Drones

You can see the four drones floating in the middle of the shot.

Four drones did a choreographed mini air show to music, which we must admit was one of the coolest things at CES. It really is the stuff of science fiction, and it’s available to anyone for $300.

Although the number of drones has skyrocketed in the past few years, laws haven’t addressed the privacy implications of having the skies filled with tiny data-collecting robots. Can someone fly a drone over your yard and record video of what you’re up to? Can the police send drones in to photograph everyone at a public protest? It’s hard to say without clear legislation.

For now, privacy advocates like the ACLU and EPIC are pushing for more government transparency about their use of drones and greater privacy protections for innocent civilians, but as more privately-owned drones fly around the neighborhood, we may be entering a new era of private and public surveillance.

What’s your take on drones: fun, scary, or both?




Join in the discussion

  • Don says:

    While drones may be able to fly over, hover and video above someones house or yard they had better keep in mind that some gamers not only use the computer but also airsoft. Unlike a $300 and up flying invasive machine these high tech gaming weapons can bring down the best of them at just under 1/20th of a penny. So before someone decides on checking out what the neighbors are up to by flying one of these birds over private property that does not belong to them, preparation should be made for a replacement unit should their investment be shot down and become irretrievable. With some airsoft weapons ( 6mm plastic balls in every color imaginable ) going well over $1,000 like the rotating 6 barrel mini gun and traveling at over 500 feet per second, a downed drone may be returned by the neighbor but the damage inflicted could well exceed the cost of a new drone. I personally would have a ball pitting an MP5, M4 or even a CO2 full auto airsoft pistol against one of the upper scale 3D Gyro Drones. Sounds like the ultimate game to me. Seriously though before a larger local Barn Owl or Hawk put their talons on the backside of a small family pet, I would make bet that enough 6mm bee-bees were on there way that no less than a dozen would feel just like suppositories as they found their mark on the bird without having to kill it. All kidding aside there are people out there that upon seeing a drone flying or hovering over their house or property, would use no less than a real weapon to bring it down. Now if they are in a no shot zone, guaranteed every excuse in the book would be given to enforcement as to why their life was in danger and had to use deadly force to bring this menacing thing down. Believe me there are allot out there that are stupid enough to do just that. I’ll finish with, be careful were you fly them because it really is pilot beware.

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