Thursday, 21 June 2012

I, For One, Welcome the Prying Eyes of our Model-Aircraft-Flying Overlords

Listening to:

Bathtub Gin by Phish, from the 30 December, 2010 concert. (See Marco Arment on Phish for more on these guys.)

Flying a Quadcopter-Mounted Camera

This is super-awesome stuff (and the video is pretty typical I think; I’m sure there are lots of people doing just the same sorts of things all over the rich world). The technology is way cool, but it’s also amazing that the technology to do this is now within the hands of “ordinary people”.

(From this blog-post.)

It’s also all rather disturbing to imagine where this might end up. Yes, there are already some regulations in place (see the comments on the blog post). Yes, the little UAVs are still pretty large and obvious as they fly around. But when they get small and quiet, and so much harder for normal people to detect, will people be flying them around willy-nilly, completely ignoring the various regulations?

I get the impression that the rules in place today are there to prevent people getting hurt by largish objects crashing into them. But when the objects are not so large, the risk of physical harm is rather lower. It is then that society runs the risk of having the “less moral” destroying privacy by spying on people just “because they can”.

Certainly, things will get interesting. I have no idea how society will evolve to deal with this, but I’m pretty certain that it will need dealing with. I don’t imagine the technological clock will get dialled back, so the question becomes: “What will the counter-measures be?” People lock their doors to deter burglary, but society does a lot of other things too: it generally tries to teach its children not to steal, and it uses police forces and criminal punishment too.

Are there plausible technological ways of countering miniature flying spies? What will the laws look like? Will people respect them, or observe them mainly in the breach? What will that do to our own intuitions about privacy?