“what goes around comes around”
When I first looked up “tacopter” a mixture of the word taco, a corn or wheat food item you can fill with meat, vegetables and cheese and the word “helicopter” it initially sounded novel. The idea that such was the advance in technology, in the future our takeaways and books we had ordered could be delivered to our doors by an unmanned aerial vehicle. Imagine Amazon bringing you Downton Abbey by drone, endless options for their use http://news.sky.com/story/1176325/amazons-hopes-for-drone-deliveries
However after the initial amusement, something nagged me… Questions quickly arose, what would happen to those who porter food and books to earn a living, how much would our skies be disturbed, how safe were drones, what legislation was in place? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the body that regulates commercial drones in the US and is working to make them legally viable by 2015 though this may be an optimistic as opposed to a realistic timescale.
I have for several years been writing daily on armed drones operated by governments and relied on for surveillance supposedly for our security though often having the opposite effect. I have challenged on a daily basis the deeply disturbing ethical and legal issues as drones eliminate “alleged” insurgents that have never been through fair judicial process and often obliterate civilians deemed “collateral damage. It seemed important and fair however to separate and acknowledge other non armed drones that had a positive purpose such as monitoring climate change, surveying disaster emergencies and drone journalism. In these examples drones could access areas difficult for humans and even save lives.
Commercial drones and personal drones had generally been considered relatively safe compared to armed drones if appropriate legislation and controls are put in place. However I was left still feeling uncomfortable at the thought of a future where winged messengers filled our skies… but hadn’t people felt the same way regarding early aviation.? Was I just getting more resistant to change as the years went by?
I was woken up again by a BBC article detailing the arrest of four people allegedly using a personal drone, a remote controlled hexicopter to fly tobacco and mobile phones into Calhoun state prison, Georgia in the US. This is not the only case as there have been others in Canada, one reported recently at Hull jail on its way to delivering other contraband such as drugs. Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec’s correctional officers’ union informed the Ottowa Sun, “this sort of thing happens often, all across Quebec” Sun http://www.ottawasun.com/2013/11/26/drone-sets-off-security-alert-at-hull-jail
Surely then, this could just as easily have been knives and guns transported into prisons. Small personal drones are clearly breaching security and it was recorded that other institutions, Trois-Rivieres and Chicoutimi “use nets draped over the perimeter to catch any contraband thrown over the walls.”
As Susan Karlin reported from the “Burning man ” festival in the Nevada desert;
“This year, the hot technology was personal drones—remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The craft, which included fixed-wing planes and multicopters, were typically equipped with stabilizers, GPS, and first-person view systems. These enabled precision maneuvering while allowing the operator to see from the UAV’s point of view.”
There are already plans by private security firms (Japan) to use drones in the field of surveillance as detailed in Gizmodo; “Secom’s upcoming drone is a customized Ascending Technologies quadrotor outfitted to spot and follow ne’er-do-wells like nosy, mobile security cameras. The drones will have the ability to track suspects with lasers, and know better than to rush into melee range. They won’t be making their actual debut until 2014, at which point they can be rented for ¥5,000 ($58) per month.”
So as technology progresses further and commercial and personal drones become more user friendly, will we see ordinary citizens adapting them in illegal ways, perhaps even using them for personal vendettas. Drones can be operated on land, sea and air, with seemingly endless possibilities for use depending on practicalities and individual imagination. In the future will we see the jealous husband or wife using personal surveillance drones to track the movements of their spouse or as this cartoon depicts advise of a relationship break-up.
What about those with a grudge against governments… could insurgents adapt personal drones to carry home made bombs into checkpoints and do away with the “martyrdom operations”… the “suicide bomber”. Time to reflect on the case of Rezwan Ferdaus sentenced to 17 years by a US court for plotting to attack the Pentagon with the aid of an explosive laden model aircraft.
What about security at major events such as the Olympics and World Cup. Could such venues be targeted by personal drones… If a hexicopter can “whizz over” over a prison wall it can surely drop its load over a stadium. Will personal drones be the future of assassination, targeted killing? Governments have had the upper hand on drone technology in recent years but is that about to be challenged? What will governments think of drones then? There is an old saying, “what goes around, comes around” and that day may not be too far off!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.