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Drones: Useful Potential vs. the Dark Side

Jay Stanley,
Senior Policy Analyst,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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December 17, 2012

One of the questions I’ve been asked about my post last week on Milo Danger and his DIY paintball-armed drone is: what does that mean for privacy?

Part of the answer is that the paintball drone is a reminder that drones are a generative technology—not a closed system, but an open platform where the full flower of human ingenuity and creativity will be able to express itself. We clever humans are likely to think of 1,001 surprising new uses for drones. Some of those uses will be very beneficial—and sometimes just cool. That is one of the reasons why, despite the looming threat of pervasive drone-based surveillance, we at the ACLU have not taken the position, urged by some, that all drones should just be banned in domestic airspace.

For example, in response to my post on the paintball drone, a commenter points us to this beautiful video of a skateboarder on the streets of Prague at night, created with a drone. It’s really a work of art, and as our commenter “gregorylent” points out, is genuinely in that sense the opposite of the paintball drone video.

Other things people (and institutions) come up with will be scary, including on the privacy front. That’s why we need to set down some good rules, protections and boundaries now—so we can relax and enjoy the benefits of drones without their being overtaken and consumed by the dark side of the technology’s potential.

Speaking of the dark side, thanks also to commenter “Nick P,” who alerts us to this video of a drone armed with a real gun. A colleague also sent me to this this video, which, though it borders on parody (or may be a promotion for a video game, I can’t tell), does certainly show a real armed drone. I don’t know who or what is behind either of those videos, however; one of the things that made Milo Danger’s video scary is its apparently inexpensive and amateur origins.

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