The debate over the use of drone aircraft in the United States understandably centers around safety and privacy concerns, but the truth is, the genie is already out of the bottle.
The government has to ensure that privacy concerns are adequately addressed. And as drones become more common, the public has to be confident they won’t pose a safety hazard.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently authorized six sites for testing drone aircraft, one near Rome. Competition for the research – and the jobs it will bring – was fierce. More than 40 public, private and academic organizations in New York and Massachusetts will operate the center at Griffiss Airport near Rome, creating as many as 2,700 jobs.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., pushed hard for the Central New York alliance, including phone calls and meetings with FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also spoke with Huerta.
The first client to begin unmanned aircraft testing at Griffiss will be Flyterra, a private company that provides aerial photos and 3-D terrain models to clients more cheaply than satellites and traditional aircraft. Drone supporters believe this service could benefit the agriculture, viticulture and mining industries in upstate and other regions. It could also aid in disaster response.
Few people question how useful drones can be. Their use in military operations in places like Afghanistan is well documented. Closer to home, they could be of great value for law enforcement as well as industry.
While drones are being tested at Griffiss and the other sites, the government needs to write regulations governing their use.
It goes without saying that drone operators need to be experienced enough to keep their aircraft from crashing. But privacy concerns, especially for drones operated by government agencies, are also troubling.
Drones can transmit live pictures from high above someone’s backyard and peer through windows into living rooms. The limits on potential invasions of privacy by individuals and law enforcement must be debated. Eight states have passed laws restricting drones, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others have considered such laws.
Writing regulations requiring drones to be deployed in a safe manner while also protecting the privacy of Americans won’t be easy, but it is necessary to do so before they fill our skies.