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When the government outlaws drones, only outlaws will have drones? Well, maybe something like that will make it to a bumper sticker, but the real worry may be about what happens when only the government has them. Drones could make really good instruments for surveillance and control of the masses that a conventional police force simply couldn’t muster.
Crazy conspiracy talk, right? Yes, but don’t be surprised if you start hearing that sort of argument pop up in mixed company one of these days.
Entrepreneur, inventor and former Air Force pilot John Robb says the government will try to make the private ownership of drones illegal, and sooner than later. He cites other bloggers who admonish people to buy as many as they can before that day comes.
Writing on Forbes.com, Venkatesh Rao acknowledges that something about drones is afoot in the culture, but that he doesn’t understand it. Rao has a strong background in aerospace engineering, and he’s trying to understand the rise of do-it-yourself drones in the air.
“So either I am not smart enough/visionary enough to see the substance beneath what’s going on, or we are in the midst of a minor drone bubble that is comparable to the Dutch Tulip mania in terms of sheer silliness,” he writes.
He also came up with a mostly tongue-in-cheek Top 10 list of things to do with a drone, one of which is to “start a revolution,” noting that the Air Force could easily shoot down one or two drones, but not a swarm of them.
Parts of his list include the more noble uses for drones in civilized society, such as for search and rescue work, providing disaster relief in hard-to-reach areas, or even as personal robots that could bring you a drink from the fridge.
But it’s hard to forget that drones burst onto the public stage as weapons to seek out and destroy terrorists hiding in remote deserts. That sort of bloody pedigree provides a reputation that precedes their introduction into civilized life.
Just about every weapon and piece of technology has its good side. When mankind split the atom, he didn’t just foreshadow the destruction of Japanese cities in a world war, he also made it possible to provide clean energy to modern electricity hogs, to give just one example.
But this is, after all, America, and certain people among us never have been slouches when it comes to letting the dark side of technology live up to its potential.
Gangsters use assault weapons, whiz kids develop computer viruses, scumbags steal personal identities or post nude photos of their former lovers for fun and profit. So why not believe cheap drones will one day try to steal stuff from your back yard or take secret photos of your daughter?
Or, if the government has control of all of them, that it will make sure no one steps out of line?
My guess is all of these things will dominate discussions in a few years. The FAA has until September 2015 to draft a plan for governing how these devices will share the skies with everything else up there. Until then, it’s sort of the Wild West in drone-land, other than an altitude restriction of 400 feet. Commercial uses are prohibited.
Meanwhile, people seem unsure what to think about it all. In Deer Trail, Colo., folks will be voting soon on a plan to issue hunting permits allowing them to shoot the things down. My guess is they don’t have enough bullets to drop all the drones that are headed our way. They haven’t yet caught onto the idea of fighting drones with drones.
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Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist of the Deseret News. He has nearly 40 years experience as a reporter, editor and editorial writer in Oklahoma, New York City, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. He also has been an adjunct journalism professor at Brigham Young and Weber State universities.