Privacy and Property Rights versus Technology and the ‘Right’ to Spy

By Alden L. Benton

A bizarre news item I spotted online Saturday morning raised a lot of questions in my mind about privacy and property rights in the age of technology.  The story comes from the Orangeburg, South Carolina Times and Democrat via the Drudge Report.

According to the story, an animal rights group named SHARK (Showing Animals Respect And Kindness) caught wind of what they allege was a planned live pigeon shoot on a private plantation, so they brought out a surveillance drone to video the event.

When SHARK arrived, the shooting stopped and the hunters left, at least most of them.  However, SHARK launched their drone anyway.  Once airborne, a single shot downed SHARK’s surveillance drone which, they claim, was flying over a public highway.

Quadrocopter Mikrocopter similar to the one downed in South Carolina

I am not going to talk about whether hunters on private land should or should not be shooting pigeons or the “right” of SHARK to try and stop them.  Moreover, I am not a lawyer nor do I claim to be an expert in property rights or privacy laws.  However, the questions here relate directly to property rights and privacy and this incident raises questions which need to be addressed.

  • If you are on private property engaging in legal activity, does a private person or entity have the right to record your activities without your consent?
  • Does a private citizen have the right to peer into your house or protected property with binoculars or a telephoto lens?
  • Do you even have a right to privacy on your own property?
  • Do you have the right to privacy from private parties using aerial surveillance whether by helicopter, drone, or other aircraft?
  • Do you have the right to repel invasion of your home and property in defense of your rights?

I visited Quadrocopter’s web site and watched a product video of this machine peering into windows, flying close to people, and looking into vehicles, and the whole idea of sophisticated, privately controlled surveillance equipment became unsettling.

Celebrities have long faced this issue with their weddings and funerals invaded from the perimeter of their property and from the air. 

Who is next? Will there be anywhere one will not be watched? What limitations should there be on private citizens deploying surveillance drones, or should this be left to law enforcement where, ostensibly, we are protected by due process?

The law rarely keeps pace with technology.  President Obama signed the FAA Reauthorization Act into law February 14.  According to the Washington Times, “Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.”

The article continues, stating, “The agency [FAA] projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.

Additionally, “Section 332 of the new FAA legislation also orders the agency to develop a system for licensing commercial drone flights as part of the nation’s air traffic control system by 2015,” according to the Washington Times.

The bottom line is that in passing a law that fails to guarantee the rights of citizens, Congress has abrogated its responsibility to those who elected them. Congress has once again surrendered to inside-the-beltway special interests, in this case drone manufacturers and the defense industry. 

The final House vote on the FAA Reauthorization Act was 223-196 and the bill cleared the Senate, 87-8.  Remember this when you vote on November 6.

The incident in South Carolina may be a precursor to more, and increasingly violent confrontations between citizens and snoops. Americans don’t believe that anyone has the right to spy on them.

Until the issue of private surveillance is settled, both privacy, and surveillance aircraft, will be fair game on, or over private property.


© 2012 Alden L. Benton/Independence Creek Enterprises.
All rights reserved.

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One response to “Privacy and Property Rights versus Technology and the ‘Right’ to Spy

  1. Since it’s illegal to discharge a firearm in most urban areas where surveillance drones could do the spying of government agencies, commercial interests or nosey neighbors, here’s an idea to protect our personal privacy: Kamikaze drones! Radio controlled killer drones meant to intercept and destroy surveillance drones. These could be small, fast, nimble, inexpensive, radio controlled, fixed wing aircraft equipped with a closed circuit camera and capable of towing a lightweight net.
    When a rotary wing surveillance drone is spotted, the kamikaze can be scrambled and visually guided close to the interloper. Once within camera range, the netting would deploy and the ‘killer’ guided over its ‘prey,’ entangling the rotors and crashing the spy. What fun! What a pain in the ass!
    You’re right technology has once again sped ahead of privacy law legislation. And it’s not only cameras in the sky; it’s also concealable GPS devices, GPS systems hidden in cell phones, electronic “big ears,” Wi-Fi snooping, and the list goes on.
    The following is a link to a New York Times article featuring some opinions in the subject:
    http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/02/20/civilian-drones-in-the-united-states/drones-can-be-scary-and-useful
    As much fun as piloting a kamikaze into an airborne spy would be, shotgun shells are cheaper and more expeditious.

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