Newspaper: "We must ban drones outright before it's too late"

I don't normally pass along anti-drone op-eds, but this one from the Chicago Tribune is the most extreme I've seen and interesting in how it discounts the positive uses as trivial (pizza delivery) and focuses on the weapon risks.

In the overnight hours last week, authorities in Paris spotted unmanned drones buzzing the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, the Place de la Concorde the U.S. Embassy and other high-profile landmarks.

Why? It's still a mystery.

But whatever the reason, this swarming incident has convinced me: While there's still time — if there's still time — we must ban drones.

I don't mean restrict the areas or altitudes where they can fly. I don't mean tighten regulations on the purposes to which private citizens and law enforcement can use them. Many jurisdictions have already instituted partial crackdowns.

A drone capable of delivering a package to your door will also be capable of delivering a small bomb.- Eric Zorn

I mean ban them outright. Prohibit their ownership and use for all but the most limited law-enforcement and military purposes. I mean pass legislation and create international norms to treat these small, unmanned flying vehicles the way the law treats machine guns and chemical weapons — as devices so inherently fraught with potential peril that whatever positive uses they may have aren't worth the risks they pose.

These nimble, remotely piloted aerial machines are a significant threat to public safety, even when flown by people who mean no harm, and an obvious threat to privacy.

Drone enthusiasts wax optimistically about what a boon they are or will be to photographers, retailers, farmers, bridge inspectors and so on — how cheap and easy drones make it to do important jobs.

I fret pessimistically about what a boon they are or will be to terrorists, criminals, goofballs, snoops and so on — how expensive and difficult it will be to create security barriers against their malign use.

An anecdote: In September 2013, members of the German Pirate Party flew a quadrocopter over the crowd at a campaign rally in Dresden as a gesture of protest, and crash-landed it more or less at the feet of German Chancellor Angela Merkeland her defense minister.

The device was basically harmless, but the incident — like the incident in January, when a lost drone crashed on the White House lawn — was ominous. What if it had been weaponized? A flying IED?

A drone capable of delivering a package to your door will also be capable of delivering a small bomb. And I know this sounds alarmist, but poke around online a bit, and you'll see that police departments all over are increasingly concerned about malicious uses of drones as well as the inevitable accidents when they malfunction or wander into protected airspace.

They can fly under the radar, literally and figuratively, and require sophisticated technology to safely disable. Commercial aircraft, power plants, outdoor gatherings and even moderately fortified private homes are vulnerable to stealthy incursions from above.

Drone defenders will argue that hobbyists have flown radio-controlled model airplanes for well more than 50 years without ghastly incident, so all this fretting and legislating is unwarranted.

If only. These things are no longer glorified toys. They're getting cheaper and more sophisticated all the time, and the costs of protecting ourselves from them will rise accordingly.

And for what? So pizzas and prescriptions can one day be delivered faster? So we can enjoy more stunning aerial videos such as the tour of Chicago in winter posted to the Soaring Badger Productions YouTube site? So we can more easily keep track of our crumbling infrastructure? So farmers can monitor their crops from the comfort of their dens?

We'll be sorry if we don't strike an international treaty banning the civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles and sharply limiting their use by law enforcement and the military.

Do I know how preposterous and reactionary this sounds? How it echoes of the vaporous panic with which history's fools have greeted nearly every technological advance from the printing press to the Internet?

Do I realize the futility of railing against the tide of progress with feverish hypotheticals?

I do. And I know there's a good chance that my yet-unborn grandchildren will one day find this column in a compendium of retrospectively amusing journalistic hysteria and have a good laugh at my expense over a drone-delivered takeout meal.

But do you realize, reader, that, whether we can stop them or not, the dangers of these devices are real and associated tragedies are inevitable? And that every once in awhile, the doomsayers have a point?

Views: 2576

Comment by John Arne Birkeland on March 1, 2015 at 9:12am

So.... I guess the story is that even old established news outlets have started doing click bait articles on current hot topics now?

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on March 1, 2015 at 9:44am

If terrorists had considered using drones a long time ago for delivering explosive packages they had ready access to large R/C planes that could do the job, but obviously were not interested in that kind of delivery system for some reason.

We could all employ high powered 2.4GHz jammers and GPS spoofers around our residences to provide defense against drones that could be possibly be capable of delivering a bomb to our doorsteps assuming that terrorists would use readily available hobby components.:-)

I believe this article to be of the "Chicken Little" variety, but so far the "sky has not fallen" yet in a noticeable quantity.:-)



Comment by F1P on March 1, 2015 at 9:44am

WTF "incident"? Maybe it is time to manufacturers and enthusiasts of drones begin to pursue the authors of such libel in the press for defamation? >8)

Comment by F1P on March 1, 2015 at 10:00am

f someone wants deploy "terrorist packаge" or make a terrrorist attack using by a drone, he is absolutely  indifferent to any drone-banning law. Is not it?
You can't protect stupidly prohibiting technological progress and development. You can protect only using them! =)

Comment by Matthias Badaire on March 1, 2015 at 10:21am
Usual rambling of wayward people. Let's forbid cars while you are it... It can be weaponized as well.
Although there is a problem and technical solution needs to be improved to secure air space around cities.
The situation in Paris begins to be difficult. Cops came to a local park where we use to go to forbid multicopters...not planes
Comment by DG on March 1, 2015 at 10:30am

Just more Progressive Utopian psychobabble. If only THEY were Kings. You can bet the farm what he thinks about private ownership of guns or Capitalism.

Someone had to say it.

Comment by Hugues on March 1, 2015 at 10:34am

Terrorists and/or  gansters willing to use drones would not respect any drone prohibition. What a dumb article.

Comment by benbojangles on March 1, 2015 at 10:44am

I think an old used car is cheaper and higher load carrying than most drones.... 

Comment by George Kelly on March 1, 2015 at 10:57am

I share everyone's annoyed reaction to stories like this. But...

We 'dronists' are dismissing the underlying concern at our (extreme) peril.

That they will be used for nefarious purposes is a matter of when, not if.

Yes, I know, they already have been, but I mean spectacularly so (world headline news, 'dozens' or 'hundreds' killed), When it comes (and not long now, I'm afraid), the backlash will be so massive (because, unlike guns or cars or whatever, not many people use or need them, and so 'no skin off their backs' to casually approve of banning them) that calm, detached, nuanced arguments for moderation will stand little chance.

We may not be able to do much anyway when the time comes, but we're making a serious mistake by taking a reflexively indignant position now to the concern expressed in articles like this.

The responsible drone community should be doing the opposite. We should be the most concerned, and be seen to be the most concerned, and be trying hardest to address the danger.

How? I'm not sure. Open to lots of debate. But denying the danger is going to bite us all in the backsides pretty soon, you watch.

(And they're dangerous. Anonymous, cheap, self-guided, easy to fly, quiet... to a degree that hasn't been seen before)


Comment by Evan H on March 1, 2015 at 11:24am

This is why I try not to be such a big jerk that nobody learns how to remote control a bomb to my door step. Maybe this guy needs to be nicer and he won't be afraid of people wanting to blow him up? 


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