Drones: Coming soon to a sky near you

Drones are "unmanned aerial vehicles," or UAVs. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, each being designed for one of two purposes: surveillance or warfare. The two best-known drone models are at the extreme ends of the scale.

Drones are “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, each being designed for one of two purposes: surveillance or warfare.

The two best-known drone models are at the extreme ends of the scale. The average citizen can use an iPhone to conduct neighbourhood surveillance with the Parrot AR Drone 2.0. This stylish unit packs a flight guidance system and an HD video camera into a form factor about the size and weight of a large pizza. You can pick one up at The Source for just over $300.

If bombing al-Qaida hideouts in Afghanistan is more your style, you’ll have to join the U.S. Air Force or the CIA. It’s only within those organizations that you’ll get the opportunity to pilot the massive, missile-laden $56-million Reaper from the comfort of a base in Nevada.

Drones are used widely around the world, even here in Canada, but it’s truly the U.S. that is at the vanguard of their application. American forces fly 10 to 15 drone missions every day over civilian areas in war zones like Afghanistan. They are generally used to monitor populations and target militants with remote air strikes, but drones also have a chilling psychological side effect. The constant buzzing of these low-flying aircraft makes it difficult for people to sleep and contributes to a general state of mental disturbance and paranoia.

In areas of the world that the U.S. heavily uses them, drones have become the new bogeyman. Local parents threaten to call in an air strike if their kids won’t get to bed. (That’s not a joke. And kids have been killed by drone strikes in many places.)

The American government touts the precision with which drones can destroy key enemy targets. However, no one – not even the U.S. military itself – can account for the civilian death toll. The Brookings Institution estimates that for every militant killed by drones during the U.S.’ campaign in Pakistan, 10 civilians also died.

The U.S. monitors the Canadian border with its last-generation Predator drones. Speaking of Canada, until last year, our military also flew drones in Afghanistan. They were an Israeli-developed model called the Huron, and they were used only for surveillance purposes to support the efforts of ground troops.

More recently, our military has used drones to patrol the Canadian Arctic out of bases in Inuvik, N.W.T., and Churchill, Manitoba. The Ontario Provincial Police uses drones to investigate crime and accident scenes. The use of drones in Canada by law enforcement agencies and the military has largely flown below the public policy radar with very limited scrutiny.

And efforts by the Canadian Forces to expand its drone program have almost consistently been rebuffed. That may be because our government has put almost no effort into establishing laws and regulations around the use of drones. It’s pretty much up to aging Transport Canada regulations to govern how we use these fast-evolving aircraft. From a governance perspective, all is quiet on the northern front.

That’s very different from the U.S., which is currently engaged in an intense public debate over the issue. One of the key aspects being considered, as you might expect, is privacy. Every drone has at least a video camera and listening equipment attached to it. Many also have radar and infrared capabilities along with wireless Internet and telephone-tapping equipment. With widespread use, that would give government agencies an unprecedented reach into the lives and environments of citizens.

To help establish the rules by which drones might be used in the U.S., some civil-rights organizations are demanding that remote test cities be built, like those old nuclear blast sites. That way the privacy-invading capabilities of drones could be tested, measured and understood before they are widely used in real-world civil situations.

That’s not enough for some Americans, however. Charlottesville, Virginia, has banned the use of drones outright. Some states, including California, Oregon, Texas, and North Dakota, are looking into similar measures. The use of drones is on the rise. They present immense utility to government, law enforcement, military and citizens alike that can’t be ignored. But drones are also a tangled mess of issues that need to be ravelled out in advance of their widespread use.

Like most technologies, drones themselves are neutral. It’s in how we design and establish the rules and standards of their use that we characterize their utility. Better that governments get to work on that sooner rather than later. Otherwise, next year’s model of the Parrot might come armed with a squirt gun. And we can all imagine the social anarchy that will ensue from that technological advancement.

Andrew Robulack is an award-winning entrepreneur, writer and consultant specializing in using technology and the Internet to communicate. Read his blog at www.geeklife.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read