Drones are becoming one of the most prevalent gadgets today, and for good reason—they allow you to take beautiful photos and videos that weren’t possible with regular cameras. However, drones have also been misused by people with malicious intent. Take the case of Austin Haughwout, a teenager from Connecticut who uploaded a short video of a pistol mounted to a drone. There have also been numerous reports of voyeurs using drones to spy on people in private settings.
In a world where fear of day-to-day surveillance is becoming more and more valid, do you ever wonder when drones are going to be used by the police force as a means of civilian surveillance?
A Short History of American Surveillance
Before we examine the possibility of police surveillance drones, let’s review the history behind police using technology to spy on civilians.
The first known case of wiretapping was done by a man named D.C. Williams from California back in the 1860s. His scheme was to listen in on corporate telegraph lines and sell the information he had collected to stock traders. He was eventually arrested and convicted in 1864. Police didn’t start wiretapping until the 1940s. Before then, this technique was used only by private detectives and corporations. By the 1930s, corporations hired private detectives who wiretapped on labor unions in an effort to stifle them. The Prohibition brought about a need to use wiretapping as a police tactic. By 1965, the general political position was that wiretapping was a necessary evil for the sake of strengthening national security. Today, it’s the complete opposite as it has been proven that the police have disproportionately targeted Latinos and African-Americans as part of “the war on drugs.”
Wiretapping isn’t the only means of police surveillance nowadays. There is a growing fear of spying via telecommunication channels like smartphones and smart speakers. These are all connected at all times after all (especially smart speakers like Google Home or Amazon Alexa), and hackers intercepting these private lines isn’t outside the realm of possibilities.
Drone Surveillance: Valid Fear or Paranoia?
Another form of surveillance that can potentially become a reality in the near future is drone surveillance. It makes sense considering the recent advancements in drone technology.
There are drones out there like the Lily that can be used almost instantly as soon as you toss it into the air, without the need for the usual pre-flight setup procedures. There are some drones that are capable of tracking one’s movements like the Hexo+. This is intended as self-filming feature for extreme sports athletes but the technology can certainly be used for malicious intent. Some drones fly almost without a sound like the Parrot Disco, which is shaped like an airplane, thus eliminating the noise generated by drone propellers — a perfect recipe for potential stealthy surveillance. Lastly, there are drones being developed right now that can charge itself mid-flight without the need to land. This technology, developed by the Global Energy Transmission (GET), uses an electromagnetic field to keep drones in the air indefinitely.
If you take note of all these features, you will see how truly powerful drones of the future can be. The police already use drones in other non-surveillance procedures. Among these things are tactical reconnaissance, crime scene documentation, rescue operations, traffic management, and bomb management. Surveillance drones are a possible next step in the progression of police tactics.
Surrounded by Machines: Its Effect on Humanity
Technology is always going to have its pros and cons. One of the pros is that life does get easier as more advanced technology makes human living more convenient. Just imagine the huge benefit that things like smartphones and cars give us on a daily basis. The con of it all is how much damage these pieces of technology can cause if put in the hands of the wrong people.
The movie scenes that were mere depictions of human curiosity are now tangible objects that exist and aid in daily human life. Tablet computers, for example, were depicted in Star Trek and began to be a household item a few decades later. There is no doubt that technology will continue to improve and have a growing impact on civilization as a whole. We are just about to see the dawn of drones being used more frequently in our everyday lives. For example, companies like Amazon plan to launch package delivery drones in the near future.
There is a fine line between technology that helps and technology that damages, between creating a utopia and enabling a dystopia. This line is something we should pay close attention to and be wary of.
Do you think drone-enabled police surveillance is close to becoming a reality or is the idea just too far-fetched? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Author Bio: Joan Amelia Kissler (aka Jones) is an aspiring blogger, frequent traveler, and a budding DJ. In 2014, she quit her job as a paralegal to pursue her dream of writing full-time and producing her own music. She loves sharing her thoughts and ideas through writing and is currently working towards starting her own travel and music blog. In her spare time, Joan also enjoys playing gigs at local bars, reading mystery novels, hunting for vintage vinyl records, and watching obscure foreign language films.