I don’t think the LAPD’s new drones will prove any real threat to privacy, for two reasons. First, while 30 grand is less than the cost of an honest-to-god helicopter, it still seems rather prohibitively expensive. For this reason there will, at least for the forseeable future, be no higher concentration of drones in the sky than there have been helicopters in the past. And police precincts that rush out to buy the new toys will never again receive sympathy when they conduct their annual phone drives.

Second, the drones probably won’t be nearly as capable as manned choppers. Each is a frame, basic controls and a tennis ball-sized camera…and it looks like little else. The resolution coming from those cameras is probably suitable for car chases, and not much more. Again, we tolerate helicopter fly-overs on a near-daily basis (and when there’s a good chase on TV, we absolutely DEMAND them)
Of course, I may be missing something. Dan, what privacy implications do you see, besides the drones’ car-tracking ability?

These drones, I think, are only really scary because middle-school readings of The Giver and Orwell have conditioned us to fear the word “drones,” which smacks of authoritarianism. Or, in extreme cases of conditioning, it smacks of termites, which rival authoritarianism in their destructive power.

Morgan Hubbard

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