Dead or Alive; Drones and Surveillance

robocop by Roland Molnár (CC BY-SA 2.0)
robocop by Roland Molnár
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Do we fear for the police state, that may come with overuse of drones? After all, ‘…we are rapidly moving toward a future in which a majority of aircraft will be unmanned.’ (Villasenor 2014, p.235).

Drones… they are possibly without doubt the big bad scary of the surveillance landscape in modern times. Although drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have been in development since the 17th century (Villasenor 2014, p.235). Why is it though that they have become this feared icon of surveillance? Perhaps it is because they can literally be anywhere. From high in the sky armed military drones, to the miniscule.

Not only that, but the user can be anywhere – certainly true for the larger military drones, and quite possibly – with the current price tags, controlled by anyone. Which in essence is the problem, at least with a fixed camera there is a possibility of knowing where to access the footage if required, but a UAV? Without seeing the user, it is practically impossible.

Sweeping the negatives under the proverbial carpet, UAV’s do have many real world applications:

‘…search and rescue, news reporting, crop spraying, air quality monitoring, after-the-fact crime scene investigation, surveying, disaster response, wildlife tracking, research into the dynamics of violent storms, spotting wildfires, filmmaking, and traffic monitoring.’ (Villasenor 2014, p.236)

Drone/mountain rescue van by John Mills (CC BY 2.0)
Drone/mountain rescue van by John Mills (CC BY 2.0)

Even these as listed by Villasenor are not absolutes and it is worth mentioning that drones can and do go anywhere that a visual inspection is needed and which may be inaccessible by people. In fact, most articles posted about drones will list several pro-uses for drones, which demonstrates that there needs to be an understanding of how this technology can be beneficial. On the ethics of drone uses West and Bowman state:

‘Citizens doubt that the benefits of drones outweigh the risks to privacy; the deterrent effect on illegal behavior claimed by advocates may be less likely than the chilling effect on lawful activity.’ (West and Bowman 2016, p.653-4)

It seems to be a ‘not in my backyard’ scenario. However, in Australia drones are being used and trailed by the police.

Perhaps it is their use in the military that has people afraid of what may happen as they, ‘…are the signature weapon of modern warfare, as more than 90 nations use them for reconnaissance, intelligence collection, and targeting.’ (West and Bowman 2016, p.650). The key word there is ‘targeting’; if I see a drone and feel that it is too close, would I feel targeted?

NYPD Drones by Bit Boy (CC BY 2.0)
NYPD Drones by Bit Boy (CC BY 2.0)

(CLICK – for more on this protest campaign)

As drones are a relatively, in public accessibility, new technology the law has taken time to catch up, and for the most part responsibility of use relies solely on the sensibility of users.

For example, if a drone flew into your backyard, do I have the right to destroy it? If I did what would the consequences be? Should I have the relative right to privacy in my own backyard?

In a slightly different example, a family is in the park with a drone – I can see the user and I can see the drone, most likely it is recording. Do I care? Not really it is public space, I generally don’t feel the right to privacy.

In both of these scenarios privacy was the key word, a person should have the general right to some privacy and the home is usually paramount. Personally, I think it comes down to just one saying, ‘don’t be a dickhead’; and use UAV’s wisely before the government sweeps in and does it for you. Pocket Bikes anyone?


Villasenor, J 2014, ‘“Drones” and the Future of Domestic Aviation’, Proceedings Of The IEEE, 102, 3, pp. 235-238, Applied Science & Technology Source.

West, J, & Bowman, J 2016, ‘The Domestic Use of Drones: An Ethical Analysis of Surveillance Issues’, Public Administration Review, 76, 4, pp. 649-659, Health Business Elite.


8 Replies to “Dead or Alive; Drones and Surveillance”

  1. Hey Rob,
    Firstly, I wanted to say what an interesting post and really well done! The media you chose worked perfectly to fit your content and you created a really in depth discussion. You really thought about your content and making it creative and used great analytical thinking. You’ve referenced really well and used quotes throughout your blog well, you made it really seamless. Overall you’ve created a really great and in depth conversation, whilst also making your content really interesting to read which was really good. No really negatives I could find Rob! Keep up the good work.

    1. Hey Sophie, thanks for that, I really enjoyed writing this piece – did it show? I don’t think that drones are being used to the full extent that they possibly could be, but then the tech is still reasonably new.

  2. Hey Rob,
    Fantastic post. Great, powerful first image used, I was immediately sucked in! I thought your tone and style was easy to read and that your content was informative and well researched.
    I think your embedded tweets are great and the fact that you have a conversation going on is unreal. What a nice touch!
    I really enjoy all your chosen images and you have inspired to and look for some for my own posts. It really does make a difference to the overall look, feel, and professionalism of the post. Yours looks great!
    I really enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to reading more of your work in the future.

    1. Hey Veronica, Thanks for the comments. I struggled to get some of the images, several times I forgot to click the creative commons button on flickr! So bad when you find something good only to see it can’t be used.

  3. Hi Rob, really great blog post, really interesting view on drones. The structure of this post is great, it flows really well and the research included is great. The inclusion of articles were great, they allowed for a greater level of knowledge on drones, which I found interesting, especially when I am not highly informed about their use. The use of the embedded tweet conversation was interesting; it really drew in my attention… while still remaining highly relevant. The use of CC images was also great, they worked well to break up the block of texts and complete the overall blog post. The title was very clever; it worked to draw my attention in originally, which is always great. Overall really enjoyable and interesting read, looking forward to seeing your future posts.

    1. Hey Sarah,

      Thanks for the comments. There was so much information and drones are incredibly varied that I feared I had strayed from the point of the post, as I so often seem to do. The world is very close to being filled with drone deliveries, but perhaps the noise will stop it from becoming widespread. Any chance I get to add a bit of pop-culture in a post I’ll take it. 🙂

  4. Another great post Rob filled with thought provoking questions and points of discussion. The use of rhetorical questions in the last paragraph had me questioning my own stance on the issue, especially as this was a topic I read on only a few weeks back. I liked that your embedded tweets depicted a discussion between yourself and another twitter user – it added another voice to the conversation. The only feedback I could offer is to maybe see if you can make hyperlinks a different colour or format as I cannot tell that it’s a link unless I hover my mouse over the screen (this may be just be a formatting issue though on my end though!). Overall a well developed insight into the issues surrounding drones and surveillance, consisting of strong arguments that are supported by academic evidence and personal anecdotes.

    1. I agree, I hate the links on this theme; the free ones never quite look like the model. I’ve added some custom CSS so now the links appear more obvious. I was blown away when the producer of that show replied to my comment, but that’s the power of Twitter. Thanks for the feedback!

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