Google chief raises privacy issues about drones

April 14, 2013 |

Who would have thought someone from Google would raise worries about privacy……..about anything.  But it has happened.  In Google chief urges action to regulate mini-drones Eric Schmidt raises privacy and security concerns about drones.

The article provides:

The influential head of Google, Eric Schmidt, has called for civilian drone technology to be regulated, warning about privacy and security concerns.

Cheap miniature versions of the unmanned aircraft used by militaries could fall into the wrong hands, he told the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Quarrelling neighbours, he suggested, might end up buzzing each other with private surveillance drones.

He also warned of the risk of terrorists using the new technology.

Mr Schmidt is believed to have close relations with US President Barack Obama, whom he advises on matters of science and technology.

“You’re having a dispute with your neighbour,” he told The Guardian in an interview printed on Saturday.

 Eric Schmidt is one of the world’s leading figures in digital technology

“How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”

Warning of mini-drones’ potential as a terrorist weapon, he said: “I’m not going to pass judgment on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratise the ability to fight war to every single human being.”

“It’s got to be regulated… It’s one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they’re doing, but have other people doing it… it’s not going to happen.”

Small drones, such as flying cameras, are already available worldwide, and non-military surveillance were recently introduced to track poachers in the remote Indian state of Assam.

The US and Israel have led the way in recent years in using drones as weapons of war as well as for surveillance.

America’s Federal Aviation Administration is currently exploring how commercial drones, or unmanned aircraft systems, can be safely introduced into US airspace.

Everything Schmidt says is absolutely correct.  Some form of regulation is required, both as to how they operate but also (and distinctly) the privacy protections.  In Australia CASA would regulate the nuts and bolts use of drones; high low they can fly, where they are not permitted to go (eg airports, near power lines etc) but such regulation generally does not work well in providing a coherent legal framework in protecting privacy.  It is possible for an operator to be properly licensed, to use a drone which complies with all specifications and fly within permitted areas and still egregiously interfere with someone’s privacy.  There needs to be civil penalties for interference with privacy which can be used by individuals and the Privacy Commissioner. Sometimes an individual  will prosecute a claim where the Privacy Commissioner will not because of resourcing or policy issues.  Other times the Privacy Commissioner will take action where individuals have no resources.  What is often forgotten in this discussion is the failure of State Governments to provide adequate privacy protections.  It is not a Commonwealth issues per se.  State laws could affect how drones are used in both public places and on or over private properties. The Victorian Government was provided with a report from its Law Reform Commission in 2010 recommending a statutory right or privacy.  It did nothing.  A failure to provide adequate privacy protections in Victorian is a shared failure of both the State Government and the Commonwealth.





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