Should we fear the recent advancement in drone technology?

Last year in the UK there were reported cases of burglars using drones to scout out potential targets and even though the act of burglary is a crime, the taking of pictures in aerial public spaces is perfectly legal. Does this mean we are surrendering our privacy to these machines? And are the potential life-changing applications too important to simply ignore?

We should be fearful….


Many see the adaptation of drones as a delivery device as visionary, however there are issues. Various stakeholders are debating the potential impact in noise and visual pollution, similar to concerns that initially prevented the proliferation of wind turbines. In addition to concerns of social cohesion, there are apprehensions regarding the ecosystem; the effect that drones could have on birds during nesting and mating season remains unclear. Perhaps the example of the US should be followed, where drones have been banned from national parks in an attempt to minimise these effects.

There is a saying, which states “a man’s home is his castle”. With personal drones becoming increasingly accessible to the public, the ability to observe and intrude upon private property is becoming a very real possibility which is not yet regulated . This technology could enable voyeurism, trespassing and could potentially be used by thieves to stake out target houses. If legislation does not quickly adapt to address the misuse of this technology, drone related crimes could potentially be a significant issue in the coming years.

The natural progression from personal drones would be the ability for governments to further tighten the grip on the human right to privacy. This right is frequently a source of debate, but regardless of the controversy, government sanctioned breaches of privacy set a dangerous precedent for the rights of citizens. The potentially more dangerous application of this technology is the ability for more corrupt governments to terrorise and oppress their citizens, allowing violent despots to keep an iron grip upon the populace. This technology would create a surveillance network which could instil a constant sense of fear over those subdued under a dictatorship.

Similarly, controversy has surrounded America’s use of drones in military airstrikes. Intended to target longstanding enemies of western states, there have been several examples of innocent civilians being killed in the midst of these attacks. These victims are labelled as collateral damage – the implication being that these deaths are a risk worth taking. In addition, these terror targets are suspects, and using drones in this manner amounts to extrajudicial execution, removing the right of fair trial. Even when using consequentialist arguments to support the breaking of this principle, it is hard to ignore data from the bureau of investigative journalism; between 549 to 1342 civilians were killed in drone strikes, with Amnesty International calling such deaths unlawful. When one considers that these strikes are a factor in the radicalisation of civilians that are left terrorised by them, it is clear that this tactic is inducing more harm than good.

The potential of misuse of drone technology is too great to risk unfettered growth; strict regulation is needed to prevent breaches of human rights.



According to Forbes the rise in popularity for remotely-operated aircrafts, over the last 9 months of 2014, translated into $16.6 million worth of transactions of more than 127,000 drones on eBay alone.

You may say “surely this means it’s easier for people with bad intentions to severely misuse them” but people made similar cases during the early development of other forms of new technology that are now widely accepted in society. All game-changing devices must go through this scrutiny. It is stated in the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Statement of Ethical Principles that all engineers must “actively promote public awareness and understanding of the impact and benefits of engineering achievements”. Hence, by turning a blind eye to the potential of drones we, as engineers, would be ethically culpable and doing society a disservice. Through further research novel applications will be discovered, and more importantly there will be stricter regulations on their use, manufacture and modification. The Chinese government has already started the long road to widespread drone acceptance through introducing laws stating that anyone wishing to operate a drone over 7kg must carry a licence to use it.

Why now are drones suddenly becoming available on the mass market? Simply because the implications of drone technology far surpass that of just the hobbyist.

Last September, the International Water Management Institute ran trials in Sri Lanka where an infrared sensor was attached to a drone to monitor crop health. Using this technique, stress can be detected in a plant 10 days before it is visible to the eye, thus providing farmers with a vital tool to combat insect infestation and unexpected water shortages. The number of people suffering from malnutrition in the world is a staggering 795 million according to Unicef. By taking a utilitarian viewpoint the idea of potentially saving millions of lives from malnutrition through maximising crop yields comfortably justifies drone use.

Drone technology has also improved safety practices throughout the nuclear industry and is even being considered as a possible means of transport as shown by Amazon’s latest venture into same day delivery.

Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Warfare drones.

The increased use in covert military operations reduces dependency on soldiers and therefore saves lives. From a stoic lens, strikes of high-profile ‘terrorist’ leaders have prevented further fighting and deaths of civilians through terrorist attacks, thus making drone use ethically acceptable. Following the Paris attacks, the terror threat to Europe is the highest it has been in 10 years and the use of drones for surveillance can provide necessary intelligence for the government.

We must also remember the research performed by the military will allow new advances in technology for the commercial drone market, leading to more affordable drone systems that can be utilised in the industries mentioned above.



6 thoughts on “Should we fear the recent advancement in drone technology?

  1. In the same way we can broadcast WiFi throughout out house, would it be possible to plug in a device that would broadcast a signal and prevent the video feature of the drone from working?


  2. Another very well written blog that reads beautifully. I like the structure and flow of each of your arguments, and the hyperlinks are well placed and interesting in themselves (specifically the statement from Royal Academy of Engineering’s Statement of Ethical Principles).

    There are however a few points I’d like to make. The divide between personal and military drone use is very weak, and I feel like these two issues have massive implications within themselves. It might have been worthwhile focusing on one or the other for this article, as I feel like a military use argument was quite weak considering it is one of the most serious points about ethics behind drone use. Saying that “these air strikes are a factor in the radicalisation of civilians” is a very big statement to make, especially with no justification behind it.

    The against argument also makes some very interesting and valid points, however it focuses on the benefits of drones rather than why “there is no need to be worried” about advancements in drone technology. I would agree the some benefits outweigh some negatives, but this does not negate the points made in the other argument, just like cars are a great form of transport but traffic accidents are still one of the most major forms of premature deaths in our society.

    My final thoughts are that with regulations applied, personal drone usage will have plenty more benefits than harms to modern day society and technology should not be inhibited by the fear of change. However, the use of drone technology for military application is a whole other topic which I personally am strongly against and think this argument would be better covered in an article of its own.


  3. This was a very engaging and a concisely written article on a prevalent issue in society. However, it must be said that the Against section was broached with an appropriate gravity that the For section lacked. This is after all a controversial subject which concerns the lives of other human beings and titling the second half with “There is no need to be worried”, presents a slight levity. That being said, arguing for the development of drone technology is a difficult task because you are effectively endorsing the deaths of others.
    It is evident that the potential benefits from the advancements in drone technology are numerous and can bring about revolutionary change in many applications. It bites the human curiosity to leave this much potential unexplored, but at what cost? Our privacy? As the technology has already been commercialised, I believe that regulation is the appropriate measure. But effective and strict legislation which still respects the privacy of every civilian.
    From a military perspective, drones are said to save lives on a regular basis. However this perspective entertains the greater good scenario, where the lives of the many outweigh the few. After all there have been a large number of civilian casualties as a result of drone strikes in third world countries which are populated by several enemies of the western world but these are deemed acceptable due to the supposed millions of lives saved across the world. Through this lens, is the sanctity of life not undermined? Furthermore, the targets of drone strikes, criminals they may be, are still being executed without trial or due process.


  4. This is, of course, a controversial subject, where passionate arguments could be made at either end of the spectrum and I feel like you covered either side in a fair manner.

    The argument stating that we should fear them covers the points that many officials don’t want us thinking about – about the invasion of privacy that could occur in everyday life and the collateral damage caused with the use of these machines. It’s a reminder that although there are many advantages to the use of drones, it doesn’t come without cost. Many relate to the rise of ISIS and the radicalization of youth in particular to the warfare that the youth witnessed during the Iraq war and other middle-eastern conflicts. Whether or not drones are successful in taking out targets, they’re also taking out innocent parents and children, and fueling the Middle-East’s hatred of the West. You could even argue that if they do continue to to kill innocent people, the war against terrorism may just turn into a sick cycle, with hatred being fueled on either side.

    Then again, the drones do help the Military to keep an eye on the enemy. Drones can be very difficult to spot and can act as a great form of surveillance, whilst also reducing the risk of deaths of our soldiers – if a remote-controlled drone is in fact shot down, we won’t be losing life – just resources, which to me is worth a lot less than a person’s life, although this might not apply to everyone concerned with the fight against terrorism… The licensing policy you mentioned seems like it could make a big difference to who gets to control and use these drones – and therefore does somewhat protect our privacy, but that’s only been implemented in China, it might be a while for it to be implemented in other countries. Also, is a drone over 7kg relatively large or small for a drone?

    I personally feel like drones could be of great use to society, but their accessibility really needs to be looked over. They shouldn’t be available for any use other than in the military and government forces – by allowing regular companies to use them we do risk them falling into the wrong hands. Once, my Albanian best friend convinced me to watch the Albania-Serbia Euro 2016 Qualifying Match of 2014, claiming it was a massive game due to the relations between the countries. During the match, just before half-time, the match had to be suspended due to fans rushing the pitch, with fights breaking out everywhere as a result of a remote-controlled drone flying in holding a flag of Greater Albania. Many people were injured and many Albanian-run stores in Serbia were set on fire in response. To me, this anecdote is just one of the many possibilities that could occur if drones were in the hands of those with bad intentions. In order to really take advantage of the many great benefits of drones, we should really first stamp out as many possibilities of them being misused as we can. It’s not the drones themselves that should be feared, it’s who’s controlling them


  5. I think that fearing the advancement of drone technology is not helpful since it’s not really something that can be prevented – banning its development might be akin to attempting to ban an idea. However, as the article says, they are so readily available nowadays that their use for nefarious purposes such as invasion of privacy should be fought, by introducing laws against drone use in certain areas.

    I feel that drone use for military applications is neither here nor there. If drone use was seen in the same light as nuclear or biological weapons, countries would just resort to other means to carry out their objectives.


  6. Nice article.
    You need to specify what exactly you’re discussing the ethics of though. “Drones” in general is quite a large topic and covers everything from back-garden hobbyist drones, to drones laden with missiles and remote targeting systems. The ethics vary massively depending on which you are talking about.

    Interesting point about drones being used as tools for casing houses for burglars and as pervy cameras for voyeurs, though these acts will happen regardless if drones exist or not; they just make things a bit easier for those people. These points are then countered when you mention drones being loud and unsightly – it’s hard to take covert images if you’re easily spotted and very loud.

    You made some very good points about the possibly application of drones – specifically the farmers using IR cameras to observe crops. Interesting stuff. Any other cool things they can do? Maybe some more info on the nuclear applications, and how Amazon are planning to use them?

    Great read overall. Solid 5/7.


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