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Ready or not, unmanned drones may soon be a staple of American life

Brad Reed | April 5, 2012
If you're worried about companies like Facebook and Google violating your privacy, just wait until you have unmanned aerial drones flying around your house.

Crump also said that drones were more problematic from a civil liberties perspective because they were much less costly to operate and maintain than manned aircraft such as helicopters that police currently use for aerial surveillance. 

John Villasenor, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute, shared Crump's view that unmanned drones can be particularly problematic for privacy issues since they're so much smaller and harder to detect than traditional aerial craft.

"FPV aircraft can make it easier to spy," he said. "A pilot who's sitting in a car parked 10 blocks away while operating a drone is less likely to get caught... Sensitive government and military facilities could find it harder to detect a small unmanned drone."

But while Villasenor acknowledged that unmanned drones created real risks for privacy and security, he also said they also provide life-saving technologies that are too beneficial to ignore, such as the ability to easily search for stranded survivors that need medical attention in the wake of natural disasters. Villasenor said some of the biggest issues in deploying unmanned drones domestically will be how to safely integrate potentially tens of thousands of new vehicles into American airspace.

"It's a complex problem," he said. How in the world are we going to navigate the safety challenges of having tens of thousands of these unmanned drones being used for assorted reasons? The sheer math of it says that we're going to have some hiccups along the way."

Kenneth Anderson, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, also thought that safety was a major concern for the future of unmanned drones and warned that the technology would face an immediate public backlash if drones were involved in high-profile accidents.

"It wouldn't take many safety incidents of a serious kind to shut the whole thing back down," he says.


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