Apr 30th 2014 | Posted in Public Safety by Mary Scott Nabers

SPI President & CEO Mary Scott Nabers

SPI President & CEO Mary Scott Nabers

Soon, every American will likely have strong feelings one way or another about the use of drones. The use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, is an issue crying out for clarification.

Some argue that the use of drones offers significant benefit to the world. For instance, drones can quickly and efficiently provide online access to areas of the world that are currently devoid of telephone wires or cell towers.  And, others like the idea of having hot food delivery to any location courtesy of friendly and efficient drones.  But, others will argue that without strict regulations, there is a potential for drones to become an evil force in the world. Tom Cruise’s new movie, Top Gun II, is all about a Drone War and Cruise is the good guy trying to outsmart robot pilots operating out of control drones.

No matter how unfamiliar drone issues currently are to most Americans, that will change soon because a showdown is drawing near and drone decisions will impact all Americans.

Currently, drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but in the United States, laws are vague enough to allow various types of interpretation. Courts will soon have to step in and clarify current law.

Officially, the FAA does not allow the unregulated use of drones for commercial purposes.  But, the federal agency has not been aggressive in its oversight. Recently, a nonprofit organization in Texas sued the FAA because it seeks permission to use drones to search for missing persons. EquuSearch is suing because it does not believe it should be required to develop a partnership with a governmental entity in order to use drones for emergency requests.  EquuSearch wants to use drones to search large sweeps of land when looking for missing people. Many law enforcement organizations throughout the country are also using drones.

The FAA has been regulating unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) since 1990, but as drones become more attractive to law enforcement, commercial ventures and the military, more oversight is now essential. Google and Facebook were recently in a drone war of their own. The two tech giants were both trying to purchase Titan, a New Mexico-based startup that makes solar-powered drones.  Google emerged victorious but Facebook simply bought another company that has similar solar-powered drone offerings. Amazon likes drones just as much as Google and Facebook because with drones, its packages can be delivered quickly and efficiently to anyplace in the world.

Both Google and Facebook have become notorious for privacy breaches and their use of drones will move that needle even faster.  Privacy advocates are crying out for regulation.

Other countries are ahead of America when it comes to the regulation of drones. In Japan, there are more than 14,000 certified operators of drones. Drones are legal in many countries in Europe.

Jim Gleick, author of The Information has posed some interesting musings about drones. “Are Google’s drones going to be watching while Amazon’s drones deliver my packages?  How will we distinguish between drones with cameras and drones with guns?  How long before the NRA insists on the rights of drones to bear arms?  The Constitution says people have a right to bear arms.  And the Supreme Court says that corporations are people.”  Gleick appears to be more concerned about a real Drone War controlled by unknown operators than he is with the privacy issues, but who knows? There is much to consider when it comes to drones.

Watch for a showdown soon.  Regulations and clarifications are imminent.


Mary Scott Nabers

As President and CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc., Mary Scott Nabers has decades of experience working in the public-private sector. A well-recognized expert in the P3 and government contracting fields, she is often asked to share her industry insights with top publications and through professional speaking engagements.