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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Surveillance Drones and the Right to Privacy

The proliferation of surveillance drones and the legal right to use them will be the next hotbed of legal wrangling. Recently it was reported that a PETA-like (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) organization named SHARK (Who Gives a Rats Ass) put a private surveillance drone in the air over a privately owned plantation that was going to have a pigeon shoot. Now I don’t shoot pigeons myself and consider the critters more or less “rats with wings” but if someone wants to organize a pigeon shoot on their own land with presumably their own pigeons, as a Libertarian I would have to say it’s their right to do so.

But during this event was coined a new maxim: "Never bring a drone to a pigeon shoot." because after SHARK broke up the event by their presence, they launched their drone anyway and SURPRISE, somebody on the property in South Carolina shot the fool thing out of the air. The culprit was never found or identified. Now SHARK wants to make a federal case out of the incident which I think is a good idea but for a different reason.

I don’t think SHARK has much of a case but I do think the Broxton Bridge Plantation near Ehrhardt, S.C., the real victim in this affair, certainly does. Can anybody just fly a surveillance drone over my property? Isn’t this a form of harassment? This incident is an open and shut case of invasion of privacy.

Can my neighbor hover a drone over my house to see if I get the morning newspaper in my underwear? This is a hypothetical question of course because who reads a newspaper anymore? But the question is a valid one. Who has the right to fly over my house? Technology will eventually allow everybody to have a drone and I suppose I could probably cobble one together myself with a small camera and one of those toy helicopters they sell at the local Mall. Perhaps I can catch the woman next door sunbathing in the nude. Wait, I’ve got to make a quick run to the Mall, I’ll be right back!

Anyway, I see a new legal frontier that should give many an underemployed ambulance chasing lawyer the chance to finally pay for that private school education that they promised their wives they’d pony up for the kids. The establishment of boundaries and certain “fly-over” rights will need to be established. How can what SHARK was doing be construed as perfectly legal? If so, I should be able to fly my freshly purchased Mall “Heli-drone” over my local Police Dept. Or perhaps over my local Town Office building on a Friday to see who cuts out early. Perhaps I can even catch some local town workers sleeping on the job. This sort of thing cuts both ways.

Of course, government can just establish rules for itself which is what will most likely happen first. THEY are already exempt from laws banning talking on the phone while driving so it stands to reason that they would ban drones over “Town Property” even though it was bought with taxpayer money and should be technically construed as “Our Property”. But such is the rule of our overbearing and obtrusive government. Rules and laws are now for others and not for them.

But at any rate, this issue will have to be addressed at some point in the not too distant future. There should and will be challenges to the supposed legality of flying a drone and the rights to privacy one expects on their own property.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some flying to do.

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