Suppose you were sitting on your front porch chatting with a friend when suddenly one of these items came zooming down your street at a height of fifteen feet, stopped right in front of you, and pointed its evil blinking red zoom lens straight at you:
This, if you are wondering, is a drone, and a fearsome one at that. It is roughly three feet across, with six helicopter blades on the top and a video camera beneath, and it moves with the speed and versatility of a swooping osprey.
This photo was snapped from the veranda of a nice-ish beachfront ground-floor condo in Florida, where I was in fact visiting a friend, when the exact scenario proposed above took place. The drone came down the beachfront at a very high rate of speed, only about fifteen feet above the ground, and suddenly came to a stop — directly in front of us. It hovered there for what seemed about sixty seconds, moved a few feet lower and closer, and continued to hover for a few minutes more. The length of time it sat there was certainly long enough for my host to get his cell phone and snap several pictures of it.
My host took issue with the notion that some nosy hi-tech busybody would intrude upon us in this remarkable and outrageous fashion, as well he should. In addition to the privacy question, there was also the prospect of operator error, equipment malfunction or sheer malice inducing this alarming set of razor-sharp rotors into a sudden lunge in our direction and introducing at least one face to a sextuple set of Cuisinarts, with the face getting far the worst of the encounter.
Naturally, when a protest and a demand for a cease and desist was lodged with the authorities, my host was assured that this was really just fine and he shouldn’t worry about it. The drone, he was advised, was “authorized” and was just filming the beachfront as part of a promotional video for a nearby new development now under construction.
Okay. What drooling dimwit thought it would be “okay” to “authorize” someone to fly this hellish contraption right above the heads of people on the beach? And why wasn’t it taking pictures of the beach? Because it was very clearly pointed at us.
“What did you have to hide?”
“So what’s the big deal?”
Idiots. We may very well have had something to hide, for completely legitimate reasons. It’s no crime to keep secrets, as long as they aren’t evidence in a crime, and even that is limited. No one is compelled under the law to report a crime, but we hope they will. What if I were interviewing for a job, and — well, you get the picture. This was an outrageous invasion of privacy, by a group of fools (we soon spotted the operators) seeking personal profit at the expense of everyone else’s peace of mind and safety.
I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if something like this happened at one of the “gated communities” on Florida’s coastline favored by Russian oligarchs, Latin American billionaires and other notoriously secretive folk who guard their privacy with an enthusiasm approaching zealotry. These folks have real enemies. They might shoot first and ask questions later.
But what about people with less to fear from such incursions? Well, it’s bad enough that we have our own government unabashedly peeking into our private communications with mumbled assurances that “it’s for your own good” and stern avowals that the data will never be misused (except when some federal clown wants to spy on his girlfriend or boyfriend and searches all their emails). Now must we also tolerate private peeping toms and nosy Parkers with access to the latest in snoop stuff?
Frankly, it’s unlikely that the operators of the drone were exceeding their “authorization” with intent to profit from espionage or blackmail. I think they were just getting their jollies using their hideous device to spook people (“ha ha, look, they’re pointing at the drone, and gibbering like orangutans), or look at what folks were doing (none of their business), or something similar. But it doesn’t excuse their behavior, or protect them from redress.
Redress from what? Well, we shouldn’t have to wonder or worry about who is filming us in our private homes and for what purpose. And if their intent really was just to amuse themselves, they might remember that sometimes, when you jump out of the bushes and yell “boo!” you get a punch right in the snoot. With no one to blame but yourself.
Most people, in this position, would have little recourse but to hear their protests dismissed. This is a little different. The injured part in this case has a hearty appetite for litigation, as well as a long and distinguished history of litigiousness. Nor does the prospect of defeat in the courts discourage him, because his aim is not to win. Instead, he seeks to inflict maximum damage through legal costs and wasted time on the offender, which in this case seems almost certain. Heads will roll. Google glassbots, beware.