Apart from whizzing around and potentially coming down on people’s heads, drones pose a very real and sinister danger to society, writes Danny Mekic.
A little while ago one whirred past as I was leaving Amsterdam Central Station: a drone. It was a quadrocopter to be exact and it narrowly missed the heads of some unwary tourists. What was it doing there? Was some 16-year-old test-driving his birthday present? Or was this a police drone in pursuit of a shoplifter? Did the Dutch secret service spot a potential terrorist? Or was the NSA hunting for potential infiltrators on Dutch soil?
We’ll never know. Drones are getting cheaper all the time and their number is increasing. They are also getting smaller and more sophisticated. The justice department has said it does not consider drones ‘a threat at this time’ yett it is studying ways of taking over the controls of drones.
Drones do pose a threat to society and that is why the department is looking into this technological development. A drone can film and track people who are completely oblivious of the fact (facial recognition makes it easy to lock on to a person or object automatically). Intimate conversations can be recorded and phone and internet data – at home and elsewhere – can be intercepted.
Stick an infrared camera on a drone and it will look through walls. Equip them with weapons and they turn lethal. Drones are putting the privacy of citizens at stake and are potentially life-threatening.
Even without added weaponry, a drone can be deadly. Instead of aiming a laser beam into the cockpit of a plane, criminals or terrorists could conceivably have a number of remotely controlled drones take off next to the runway as a Boeing 777 came in. In such a scenario, the Dutch military police would have to act very quickly (by means of an automated system?) to seize control of the drones in order to avert disaster. But what does this look like in practice?
Drones are susceptible to hacking and control could switch backwards and forwards. That could lead to an extremely dangerous, out of control situation.
Establishing a drone radar and a drone register so air traffic safety can be guaranteed and the owners of drones can be identified would go some way towards regulating the situation.
A register would also tell people who they can go to complain about invasions of privacy. All this is a long way off.
Until then, shouldn’t we just ban the use of drones in this civilised country? Are things that dangerous that we need this sort of weaponry? Drones spell danger and don’t add anything to the present means at the disposal of security services.
Drone lovers will just have to put their hobby on hold until regulation is in place. We should have the courage to say no to an invasive technological development such as drones for once, at least until we fully understand all its ramifications.
Danny Mekic is a legal advisor and technology expert.
This article was published earlier in Trouw.
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