Last week I attended the International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ICUAS) in Arlington, Virginia. An “Ethics and Engineering” panel set forth some interesting questions for those individuals and businesses interested in becoming part of the drone community. However, as more and more drones hit the skies, more and more privacy and security concerns arise. To bridge that gap, a speaker at the conference from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggested using the ‘privacy by design’ concept (i.e.,  ‘an approach to protecting privacy by embedding it into the design specifications of technologies, business practices, and physical infrastructures. That means building in privacy up front—right into the design specifications and architecture of new systems and processes). Creating drones and UAS that have the ability to create audit logs (e.g. who viewed video/photos from the drone and how many times they viewed it), automatically blur individual faces (e.g. geological surveying recognizing individual people is irrelevant to the mission), use real-time destruction of frames with individuals in the frames), and built in geo fencing hardwired into the technology, will help to alleviate some of the privacy and security concerns associated with drone operations. Moreover, formalized ethics courses to inform engineers about the privacy and security issues is also important.

And why should businesses care about drones and the privacy and security issues related to this technology? Well, there are many non-military uses for UAS–just a short list:

  • Agriculture, fishery, forestry;
  • Audio-visual, media, advertising;
  • Broadcasting and journalism;
  • Cinema industry;
  • Construction and real estate;
  • Environmental (i.e.,  protection, conservation);
  • Heritage and historical monuments;
  • Humanitarian relief;
  • Industrial (commercial and corporate);
  • Insurance (investigations);
  • Maintenance;
  • Mining and exploration;
  • Policy compliance and legal proof;
  • Public safety (i.e.,  animal deterrent, civil protection, disaster management, fire fighting, pubic gatherings, critical installations);
  • Public security and law enforcement (i.e.,  police, border control, coast guard, customs, gamekeeping, judiciary);
  • Research and scientific;
  • Utility companies; and
  • Training and instruction.

We can use UAS to advertise, broadcast, shoot film for movies and television, deter animals on farmland, dispense food and medicine, explore, inspect, map, measure, monitor, observe, patrol, conduct relief flights, research, conduct search and rescue, spray, survey, test, track, and for water bombing. We just want to be sure that we build privacy and security into drones and UAS from the beginning so we can use this technology safely, efficiently and effectively without invading individual privacy rights.