The current trend in the world is accessibility. For whatever reason, accessibility is supposed to be desirable, but what happens when it goes over the top? When does accessibility teeter off the white line of availability and plunge into a screaming cacophony where there is no peace, no privacy and no down time? When did we all decide that we wanted to be celebrities? Buck the trend and you’re labeled an old fogy.
Whatever happened to caution? Not only do we make ourselves available to the masses through our cell phones, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, but now what little privacy that remains is at risk from the air.
In February Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act which will expedite the process by which the FAA authorizes the use of domestic drones by federal, state, local police and other government agencies — as well as commercial businesses. These aren’t the big, unmanned aerial aircraft that drop bombs on people, but small domestic drones with cameras to conduct surveillance — on U.S. citizens. No warrant needed.
Until the passage of H.R. 658, the FAA, concerned about air traffic and safety, blocked most domestic deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles. H. R. 658 opens the door by 2015, but without any rules regarding privacy protections, guidelines for usage or abuse put into place.
“Unfortunately, nothing in this bill would address the very serious privacy issues raised by drone aircraft,” said Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”
Law enforcement and private investigators doing surveillance, real-estate brokers taking photos of properties, farmers using multi-spectral imaging to look at their crops to check on water and fertilizer distribution are already using drones, legal or not, so if you thought your home was your private safe place, your haven from the world — think again.
The new generation of drones are predicted to become much smaller. Nano drones the size of a bird and incredibly agile already exist and the equipment they carry to monitor the world below them is very sophisticated and will become more sophisticated as technology improves — video in motion camera trackers, infra-red night vision sensors, facial recognition software, vertical take-off and landing capabilities. They aren’t flying at thousands of feet in the air; they are small enough to fly at 300 feet up with high resolution cameras, zeroing in like an uber Google Earth. By 2020, the FAA predicts 30,000 of them will be buzzing about, reporting all kinds of activities to their operators. Your second floor bedroom window will be just as accessible as your Facebook page.
Do we really want to be that accessible? Do we want to give up the last bastion of privacy we have and make ourselves vulnerable to the questionable agendas of others?
A friend of mine, a wonderful writer, described an empty room within herself — a safe place she created to survive a difficult childhood and that she returns to in meditation to process what is happening in her life. Maybe that’s all we have left — a small quiet space within that we must carve out to keep sane.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.