The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Could Domestic Surveillance Drones Spur Tougher Privacy Laws?

Unmanned, camera-equipped flying robots may help to usher in a new era of electronic privacy laws

2 min read
Could Domestic Surveillance Drones Spur Tougher Privacy Laws?

Have you ever been spied on by a surveillance drone? No? Are you sure? Maybe it looked like a hummingbird. Or an insect. Or maybe it was just really high up. Maybe there's one looking in your window right now, and if so, there's no law that says it shouldn't.

In a recent article in the Stanford Law Review, Ryan Calo discusses how domestic surveillance drones would fit into the current legal definitions of privacy (and violations thereof), and how these issues could inform the future of privacy policy. The nutshell? Surveillance robots have the potential to fundamentally degrade privacy to such an extent that they could serve as a catalyst for reform. 

Domestic surveillance robots aren't as much of an issue now as they could be, thanks mostly to the stick-in-the-muddedness of the FAA that keeps unmanned aircraft from doing anything exciting. But eventually, that's going to change, and there are already precedents (legal ones) for how domestic agencies might (read: will) start using robots. Basically, there seems to be essentially no legal restrictions which would prevent the police from having drones flying around all the time, watching people.

Clearly, this is something that we as a society should discuss, and we may decide this kind of surveillance should be illegal, or at least restricted to some extent, especially since it's getting easier and easier to build or buy camera-capable flying robots. In the near future, celebrities (like me) will be constantly surrounded by a swarm of face-reading, photo-snapping autonomous robots that will necessitate the development of anti-surveillance drone drones, loaded up with little miniature air-to-air missiles, which themselves are little flying robots.

Of course, all this goes beyond surveillance and drones. We've got these same sorts of legal issues popping up all over the place with regard to to robotics, as technology fast outpaces the limited amount of foresight that was employed when coming up with policies meant to manage current technological issues as opposed to future ones. And as we've mentioned before, there's a risk that reactionary (as opposed to proactive) policies could seriously undermine the robotics industry, which is why forethought is so important.

You can read the rest of Ryan Calo's article, "The Drone as Privacy Catalyst," at the link below.

[ Stanford Law Review ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less