Civilian ownership and recreational use of drones are increasing exponentially, with consumer grade devices becoming more sophisticated, their presence and influence within society looks set to escalate. For better… or worse?
Their use has been tainted by those with intent to use this technology for malicious purposes.
Smuggling contraband. Sexual offenses. Terrorism.
This begs the question, what regulations should be implemented to prevent such misuse?
To answer this question from an engineer’s perspective, classical philosophical approaches to ethics will be considered.
The extent of the negative consequences from increased drone use in society is both unpredictable and uncontrollable; here, the dangerous activity and illegal use of drones will be examined and strict solutions will be proposed.
There have been many instances reported where civilian drones have been used to deliver a plethora of contraband into UK prisons. Statistics from the BBC  show that 33 separate incidents of smuggling via drone were reported in 2015, as opposed to zero cases in 2013.
The Guardian 2010  revealed that there could be as many as 35% of inmates in England and Wales under the influence of drugs at any one time. Worryingly over 85% of inmates questioned stated that they could arrange drugs to be smuggled inside. Without preventative action, drones look set to contribute to these statistics increasingly so in the future.
Moreover, there is the obvious problem of privacy invasion associated with drone use. Whether this be through casual use in a public space, or more deliberate use for stalking.
Drones also present a threat to public safety, with the potential to strike pedestrians or cause traffic accidents through improper piloting. This may be a result of inexperience, or alternatively, may have been a deliberate action.
Following Kant’s universality principle  “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” indicates that the immoral actions should be prevented for the greater good of society.
This could be achieved through stringent regulation. An example of this would be to introduce mandatory drone awareness courses, coupled with piloting tests and regular air worthiness checks. Another course of action to be considered is for drones to be registered to their owners, thus allowing for any offending users to be traced and appropriate action to be taken.
With regard to technological based solutions, GPS could be implemented to introduce ‘no-fly’ zones (such as airspace above prisons, military bases and airports). This could be enforced by making it a legal requirement to have a GPS chip installed into all registered drones, allowing the relevant authorities to track drone flight paths. If a ‘no-fly’ zone is breached, the authorities would be alerted, and investigations could then take place concerning the intent of the registered drone owner. In addition to this, if a crime is committed then it would then be possible to trace the offender to the location where it occurred.
An extension of this proposal would be to implement inbuilt overrides into drones; allowing the authorities to take control of vehicles acting in a dangerous manner. However, such technology can introduce ethical implications of its own, and potential drone users may see this as over intrusive surveillance of their location.
Following a utilitarian approach, it could be argued that more stringent regulations would be the best option as the majority of the population are not drone users, and would help prevent any incidents that may pose a threat to them, as discussed previously. However, common sense must also be applied to ensure all regulations are necessary and do not hinder the progress of this promising field that could benefit society greatly.
Condone the Drone?
The freedom principle  approach pertains to the idea that everyone is free to strive for their own personal pleasure providing that the act of seeking itself does not hinder the pleasure of others. The principle can be used in this context to argue for a relaxed approach to regulation of drone use, allowing legitimate users to enjoy their hobby whilst protecting the wider public.
To answer the question debated here, a solution was proposed that the UK CAA offer pilot courses and voluntary tests in order to mitigate issues arising around the collision of improperly piloted drones. A report by Drones Direct indicates 77.4%  of drone users say their primary intent for the technology is for capturing photographs although 49.3%  do not know about the data protection act. This act applies to the photographs and video footage they capture therefore this course should also include awareness of the laws in place that protect the privacy of the British public.
In order to mitigate issues arising with drones and prisons a plan was proposed to encourage users to register their device, enabling police to trace accountability in the case of illegal activity. An App exists from the National Air Traffic Services (NATS)  showing users where restricted airspace lies around commercial airports, this app should be updated to include other no-fly zones and drone users made aware of the apps existence and usefulness. Any drone caught within the restricted airspace could be identified and this person will be less able to plead ignorance of the rules around flying drones with the implementation of a good education program.
The user must know what constitutes to misuse of drones in order to obey and respect the freedom principle and this can be implemented through schools, social media and infomercials by the National Air Traffic Services, NATS.
Okay but what if someone abuses the freedom principle? Then what?
It is inevitable that someone will abuse the capabilities, so how can we track the perpetrator? It is important to minimise the misuse of this technology, it has been proven that people are more likely to commit road crime due to their anonymity on the roads so surely the same behaviour can be applied to drones.
By devising a database it would be possible to register each drone user and with a mandatory action to include GPS in all drones, this would create a record of which drone has flown where and at what time, making identification of abusers a much narrower process than before. However, this data would only be accessed in the event of suspicious activity; all drones would not be subject to around the clock surveillance due to the ethical issues surrounding such heavy surveillance.
The pursuit of self-interest as described in the Egoistic approach  is seen as often leading to the benefit of society. This suggests that the use of drones should be hampered as little as possible. As they have a big future for commercial applications, it is essential to encourage interest and to promote innovation in order to further the development of drones to ultimately benefit society.
Group 66: Jamie Urwin, Joe Nelson, Oliver Spenceley, Matt Place