It may seem like technology is impossible to escape these days, whether we’re messaging friends on Facebook or using high-tech gizmos to help us sleep better at night. However, there is one new kind of technology that many women already want gone: drones.
It’s undeniable that drones have their benefits. They can help save lives during manmade and natural disasters, aid law enforcement or members of the military and even be used to by farmers to better manage their crops. However, with the rise of drones has also come the rise of several worrying questions – particularly for women. Like: What keeps drones from looking into my windows at night? Or: What limitations are placed on who uses drones – and how?
Unfortunately, the answers to questions like these are more scary than reassuring. In fact, the stories, statistics and facts ENTITY has to share imply that drones are the new Peeping Toms that every woman should be worrying about.
When it comes to drones, they’re basically the ultimate find for anyone who wants an eye in the sky. Compared to previous years, drones now come in a variety of shapes, sizes and price points. People can buy their own “little toy quadcopter” for only $12, or companies can invest in industrial products costing over $4,500, according to John Adamian at SPARK. It’s not just the availability that makes drones an attractive alternative to cameras or binoculars, though.
Instead, it’s their ever-advancing levels of technology. Drones can feature color and black-and-white TV cameras, image intensifiers, radar, infrared imaging and forms of GPS. Drones specially designed for the military can even carry laser-guided Hellfire II missiles capable of hitting a target within five miles away. And scientists aren’t done yet. Right now, designers are working to improve drone cameras’ range and picture, as well as creating fully “autonomous” drones, or drones that fly themselves (versus requiring human control from the ground). The military already boasts one almost-autonomous drone: all Global Hawk needs is for someone to press a button for “take off” and “land,” and to receive directions from GPS.
Creepy! Some guy flying his drone behind our house at midnight. Next time –shot out of the sky!
— Oh my … Goddess! (@LEISUREGODDESS) June 1, 2016
What does this mean? Basically, the old image of Peeping Toms using telescopes, binoculars or enhanced cameras to spy on unknowing men and women is so 2016. Instead, drones are the new, upgraded and cheap way anyone can play, “I spy.”
You’ve probably already imagined the worst case scenario for drones: creepy people getting their hands on technology that makes observing others a breeze. Unfortunately, this nightmare has already become reality for several women. One, writing under the username Forthelulzaccount, shared how a drone flew over several women sunbathing at the beach, hovering suspiciously closely to women’s bikini-clad behinds. Although her post has since been taken down – and several commentators have argued she couldn’t be sure what the drone was taping – the woman explained, “Being looked at is one thing… This isn’t what that’s about. It’s about the fact that we were RECORDED without PERMISSION as sexual objects.”
This isn’t an unheard of incident. Last year, William Merideth shot down his neighbor’s drone in Louisville, Kentucky, claiming that it was spying on his 16-year-old daughter while she sunbathed. And 65-year-old Jennifer Youngman took the problem (and her 20-gauge shotgun) into her own hands when a drone flew over her property in Northern Virginia.
In fact, British newspaper The Sun reports that complaints about people using drones to peek into home’s windows are rising, with illegal drone use being ten times more common than in the past three years.
Kudos to whomever landed their drone in the creek in my backyard. Creepy, but justice pulled through in the end.
— Shannon Lalley (@shannonlalley) January 5, 2017
All of this goes to say that if you’ve ever felt like you’re being watched – and you can’t stop hearing a faint buzzing sound – you may want to check outside your window.
Sure, the idea of a drone videotaping your most private moments is terrifying – but drones can steal more than just that. As Ben at Trackimo explains, the media has tended to emphasize the “sunbather narrative” when reporting on drones. Considering that women from Virginia Beach to Florida to Connecticut have spoken out about being watched in their bathing suits, maybe the trend isn’t surprising. However, this story frame hides other ways drones can invade people’s privacy – most notably, facial recognition.
You’ve probably people heard people joke that “Big Brother” is watching, but drones could make that much less of a laughing matter. We may be able to live anonymously around other people, but, by using facial recognition software, drones will always be able to identify us. This means that drones can make it even easier for people – or even the government – to profile certain individuals.
Beyond the theft of your anonymity, drones can also steal, well, your entire identity. When drones have a tiny computer attached, they can pose as an open Wi-Fi network and trick devices to connect to it. Then, the drone can then view any information that you access on your device, from credit card information to home addresses to telephone numbers. The simplest way to keep your information safe is ditching open Wifi connections altogether – even when you’re sitting at home, streaming your favorite TV show.
Because the only thing worse than being watched is being watched and having your data stolen at the same time.
So what exactly does the law have to say about privacy and drones? People flying drones as a hobby don’t need any special license or permit. However, the Federal Aviation Administration does require drones to be flown at or below 400 feet; remain in the operator’s sight; avoid flying within five miles of an airport, stadium or public event; and not fly at night. What about if you’re going to use drones in your business? Commercial drone operators need to be at least 16-years-old and pass an aeronautical knowledge exam to receive a remote pilot certificate…but that’s about it.
When you start adding state regulations to the picture, drone privacy laws get even more confusing. Only a few states – like Texas, Wisconsin and Idaho – boast privacy laws against privately owned drones. Just half a dozen states explicitly forbid using drones to peep into people’s windows. Of the laws that do exist, many limit how law enforcement can use drones for surveillance.
We bought my father in law a cheap drone and now it’s crashing around the living room as we all chant “you’ll drone your eye out”…
— SlowBreak (@AverageJer) December 25, 2016
Isn’t it time we got serious about enforcing drone law use? As in not ok outside apartments – ever.
— Lilly Mary (@IntrepidXplorer) December 29, 2016
Hey peeps, if you’re going to violate the law with how you use your drone, at least don’t post it online
— Kris Read (@DesignedToFade) January 5, 2017
For drone manufacturers, these existing laws are plenty – but people like Alan Butler, an attorney at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, disagrees. “Maybe an individual would have a remedy under a state peeping tom law for a drone camera aimed in their bedroom window,” he says, “but what about drones over their backyard?”
For now, people concerned about retaining privacy in a drone-age will just have to wait and see.
It may seem like drones couldn’t get anymore common. After all, we’ve already had one drone crash on the White House lawn, raising questions about how even the Secret Service can limit technological surveillance. However, many reports say that is just the beginning. There were 18,940 commercially registered drones with the FAA in August of 2016, and the FAA predicts there could be as many as 600,00 by the end of 2017.
The uses of drones are also growing – and shrinking your privacy along the way. Amazon is reportedly testing its “Prime Air” drones, which it hopes will soon be able to deliver products right to customer’s front doors. Drones could also, however, start functioning similarly to Facebook in that they will monitor people’s movements and then sell this information to businesses. (The phrase, “Pop up” ads has never been so accurate.) John Arden of Superflux (a company focused on integrating new technology into everyday life) even suggests that people could “invite [drones] into your home to play with your kids” as drones start coming in even more diverse shapes and sizes, like small toys.
In the future we won’t have social security numbers, it’ll be serial codes related to the drone that follows us everywhere.
— Ken (@kennysunshine) January 3, 2017
Today, you might struggle going a few minutes without turning to technology for help. We use cars to get to work, phones to call our loved ones and even Google to look up what to wear each morning. However, not every piece of new technology is entirely helpful – and this is especially clear when it comes to drones.
Are drones’ benefits worth the death of privacy as we know it?
You may not know your opinion now, but when you first hear the buzzing of a drone near your window, I’m guessing that the answer will seem crystal clear.
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