DRONES: privacy, security and things that make people uncomfortable
What an amazing and insightful 3 days spent in Victoria BC last week! For those of you that missed it, the 18th Annual Privacy & Security Conference was held last week in Victoria with 833 attendees and nearly 90 speakers and industry experts sharing their sector-specific knowledge and products through workshops, lectures, lunch & learn sessions, networking events and more.
I was extended an invitation to speak (somewhat on behalf of the industry) about drones, the current technology available to the commercial industry and my views on privacy and security as it relates to drones. To be honest, I was a bit surprised by the number of folks that took an interest in the topic which was evident when they filled nearly every available chair in the main hall. I would like to take this time to share some of my lecture and invite you to share your feedback with me but more importantly, for you to begin a similar discussion with others so that we as an industry and those close to us (such as our clients and regulators) can better address the issues at play.
First let me start by saying that for us in our industry, the issue of privacy and security isn’t one we have found easy to navigate. When we think about drones and privacy, especially the invasion of, the immediate go-to we tend to hear from the public is usually one of the following two scenarios:
- The drone always seems to be flying in front of their bedroom window, watching them as they step out of the shower…… OR,
- The drone is going to fly over their house to watch their wife while she is sunbathing by the pool.
Now in Halifax (where I live), scenario #2 doesn’t play out too often given our lack of pools so at least we have that going for us… but in all seriousness, those two examples come up more often than not when media or the general public try to connect today’s drone technology (imagined or real) with the almost guaranteed invasion of privacy which I believe really stems from the generally uncomfortable nature of seeing a drone flying overhead and you, the concerned party, can’t find the pilot. And because you can’t find the pilot, you can’t put a face to the camera hence you are unable to make a predetermination about what their true intentions may be with that image or video they just took. This is the uncomfortable impression that today’s drones leave with many of us. However, we simply like to call it a Privacy Issue.
I do not personally think we have a “drone problem” with respect to the invasion of privacy. I do believe that there will always be those one or two cases where someone chooses to do something creepy and unethical but does that mean the entire mega industry that drones have become is somehow flawed? Do we really require massive legislation, bylaws and even all out bans in our municipalities, national parks and elsewhere? We sure don’t treat cell phones this way and they are FAR more pervasive that drones will likely ever be. I believe we all need to take a step back, lighten up on the rhetoric and take a softer approach to determining what the framework for drones and privacy should look like. From there, we can develop meaningful, sensible regulations rather than the “shoot first” approach we’ve seen.
“…the issue of privacy and security isn’t one we (the drone industry) have found easy to navigate.”
The real concern I believe is on the Security side. And there you have 2 camps, one of which effects my company directly more than the other.
The first is the physical security of drones in our airspace. I’m sure you have heard of at least one case where it was ‘witnessed’ that a drone was flying FAR too close to an airport or the arrival and departure path of an aircraft. It truly is a terrifying thought to think of what could happen. However, it doesn’t help the situation that for every legitimate case of airspace violation we probably have 100 other cases where someone said they saw a drone flying in front or near his or her aircraft, prompting them to take evasive action. Further to that, numerous cases of air operators claiming they were hit by a drone would seem to illustrate that we have a MAJOR problem on our hands. Unfortunately most or all of what I have just described above have either been proven to be “ALTERNATIVE FACTS”…or quietly dismissed due to lack of evidence or any semblance of logic.
Take for example the apparent drone that was spotted over Lake Ontario last year which one Canadian airline claimed forced them to take evasive action, injuring 2 flight crew in the process. The biggest issue with this report (in my understanding of the events) was that they were still some 30 KM out over the lake and 9000 high. This is not a realistic location for a civilian drone to be flying. The investigation found that it likely wasn’t a drone and the whole thing was quietly dismissed. Unfortunately, the damage for the drone industry, especially here in Canada, was done and the media still enjoy using it as a case study.
“Security of the data… is paramount to the financial health and success of my company and others like it.”
Remember I said we had two camps on the Security front and that one directly affected AeroVision Canada more than the other? It is the security of the data we collect for our clients. Up until recently, our industry hadn’t faced this requirement because it was simply looked at as nothing more than aerial imaging and not employed in high-value asset industries (for example). But for us and our clients, it is quickly becoming a very real problem. Do you think a client wants to share the condition and source of their infrastructure issues with a competitor or potential investors? Imagine if you will, that the company you hired to collect the data, shared the images or the report (inadvertently or not) with the wrong client. Mistakes like that only happen once and tend to come with some pretty heavy legal implications.
Security of the data onboard the drone at the time of capture, through to storage of the data post delivery to the client is paramount to the financial health and success of my company and others like it. I believe there is immediate earned value in taking some of what is being offered from industry professionals such as those in attendance at the conference and applying to our flight, analysis, and data handling processes today.