Google Inc. recently announced a grant of $5 million from its Global Impact Awards program to WWF for the development and deployment of advanced technologies to fight poaching of endangered species “in four key African and Asian landscapes”. The picture accompanying the announcement depicts elephants. Reports from WWF indicate that the advanced technologies to be developed and deployed are drones. The program is expected to be partially operational by the end of this year.
No one is likely to complain about the use of drones to identify, and perhaps help capture, elephant poachers but what do we think about environmental group drones taking 24 hour a day photography of oil sands operations, chemical plants, sewage treatment operations, or agricultural spraying? Move the target to parks, campgrounds, backyards, and catchbasins in residential areas and the questions become even more obvious: drones operated by non-governmental organizations pose significant questions of privacy.
Most Canadians likely think that drones are great when deployed to catch ‘bad guys’ but are a significant, and probably unacceptable, threat when deployed in ways which potentially photograph all of us as we go about our daily business. The problem is that drones do not distinguish between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ and, even if they did, there are no widely accepted definitions for these categories.
Our reason for publishing this article is to alert business to the possibility that, within months, your critics may be spying on you in ways that you have probably not yet considered. Many of today’s surveillance drones are small, quiet, capable of flying at high or low altitude, and equipped with tiny but very high definition cameras. Legislation restricting drone flights in Canada is weak and not well enforced. If you think that environmental groups would be interested in spying on your facility you might consider that it may not be too long before they are actually doing so.
The announcement of the Google Global Impact Award for WWF’s anti-poaching drones can be found by visiting http://www.google.com/giving/impact-awards.html and scrolling down to the picture of elephants.
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