Drones and Privacy Analytical Essay

Subject: Technology
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 11
Word count: 2980
Topics: Drones, Law Enforcement, Social Issues


The way in which drones’ impact privacy values in law enforcement agency hands is a matter of big concern. As the use of drones for domestic use in law enforcement activities increases, privacy concerns become an imperative issue particularly when airspaces become infiltrated by drones. This research paper will take a retrospective, analytical approach to privacy application by design where law enforcement utilizes the use of drones. The research paper will draw upon previous research in the Values in Design context to identify how values and biases may be entrenched in design to make contentions regarding the apparent values in drones. The method used in this research paper will consist of discussion, technical investigation and case studies involving drones. 

The case studies will delve into at least one case in point of a particular drone model’s employment and provide a framework for technical investigations that mainly focuses on four technology aspects namely; geographic and altitudinal restrictions, autonomous capabilities, data collection sensors and size. With regard to the technical investigations, the research paper analysis will confirm that the three (UAS) Unmanned Aircraft Systems designs underscored are short of the Privacy by Design standards and principles, drawing from the technical analysis information in reaching these conclusions. Based on the research paper analysis, the idea of a merit verification system is proposed that would be incorporated into the design of drones for better privacy preservation without significantly inhibiting performance.      


Also referred to as UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), drones are poised to infiltrate domestic airspace in big waves in the near future (Hoenig, 2014). The increasing drone usage by domestic government organizations ranging from disaster response and local law enforcement to the Department of Justice are among the various usages of drones. Others include; Amazon delivery drones, drones for security, drones for agriculture, promotional video drones, as well as the Colorado use of the Falcon UAV to provide relief following a flood and many other disaster management drones (Erdelj, Natalizio, Chowdhury, & Akyildiz, 2017). 

Drones have captured public attention and spurred passionately contested debates over their regulation. The issue of privacy values and the way drones have impacted this via law enforcement agencies. Thus, the continued use of drones for activities related to domestic law enforcement should have privacy concerns as a significant criterion to consider before drones pervade the airspace.

A noteworthy manner of evaluating how well technology protects privacy is to delve into how much Privacy by Design standards and principles are adhered to. Hoepman (2014) asserts that there exist 7 Privacy by Design principles that would enable one to predict poor privacy outcomes and practices. Usually, these principles act as add-ons to other principle sets such as (FIPP’s) Fair Information Practice Principles and are applied to non-governmental entity practices to influence the integration of safeguards. This research paper will take a retrospective, analytical approach to the Privacy by Design (PbD) application of law enforcement drones while reflecting on some earlier PbD non-governmental applications. 

Drones use has been intensifying in law enforcement agencies among other areas besides their initial military implementation. This growth in the drones’ market is attributed to decreased UAV technology costs and the fact that there is a distinct functional advantage of UAV’s over manned vehicles. The adoption and implementation have been slow, mostly because of the impediments involved in acquiring FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) licensing (Nield, Sloan Council, & Dunlap, 2016). However, it is projected that domestic demand for drones’ technology usage will increase in the near future beginning with government entities that require surveillance systems resembling military UAV’s such as border patrol organizations, coast guards, among other national security agencies. 

The issue concerning how best to tackle privacy violations probabilities is also growing more significant as is exemplified by six test sites of the FAA, the federal Congress bill and the over 130 proposed state laws that were suggested in 2013 alone. However, legislating drone use privacy preserving standards poses some distinctive complexities partly due to the potential uses and varying capabilities of the technology (Gomez-Barrero, Galbally, Moreno, & Fierrez-Aguilar, 2017). While much of this research concentrates more on just the aircraft, it will also partly underscore UAS’s (Unmanned Aerial Systems). Law enforcement utilizes a broad range of drones for various scenarios. This paper shall particularly delve into three drone types for analysis.                 

Problem Statement


Before analyzing the PbD principles embodiment in law enforcement drones, this research paper will address various earlier works across several different fields that will count as the framework for this research’s analysis. Primarily, the research paper will expand on the present privacy social perspective including a brief history of privacy’s development as a communal value. Also, to be addressed will be the way privacy may perhaps clash with advantages like technological capability. The best perspective though will be the theory of value of a pluralistic nature. Further, the paper shall discuss privacy protection in a societal value sense with regard to technological change. 

Additionally, privacy’s general legislative background shall be addressed, particularly the drone legislation history and the manner it has provided a foundation for society to historically safeguard its privacy from drones (Wexler, 2014). The other issue addressed includes the PbD principles expansion as a practical framework for a comprehensive technical investigation of how values can be entrenched in law enforcement drones’ designs. Conclusively, the research will delve into how technologies symbolize values, setting embodied values as a mechanism for reviewing privacy threats.

The evolution and history of privacy enlighten on the public’s response to privacy occurrences and provides a source for comprehending how technology embodies privacy. According to Neuteleers and Engelen (2015), the philosophical perspective on the theory of value in pluralistic form contends that the value of an item is determined by the capacity to either love or hate that item. Additionally, how individual care about things in numerous ways could be the origin of the theory of value in a pluralistic form. Where monistic theory of value applies, there are numerous drawbacks and limitations in its effectiveness. This is due to the reductive nature of this theory. Neuteleers and Engelen (2015) further contend that law enforcement drones and the values embodied therein must be viewed in a pluralistic way because technology and its capabilities may likely conflict with privacy values.

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Research Questions/Hypothesis

The research paper will consider four fundamental questions that will shed light on privacy as a value using the liberal theory lens of information privacy. In this regard, the four basic questions that are introductory to this theory include;

  • Can privacy be termed as an individual right?
  • Is privacy something that humanity once enjoyed but is now completely eroded?
  • Could the cause of the privacy hitch be structural?
  • Is privacy subject to remote forces that are unable to control the flow of information and thus contribute to the declining ability to uphold privacy (Day, Fiske, Downing, & Trail, 2014)? 

These questions are consistent with the surveillance and privacy literature. The sources referenced by the questions are considerably interdisciplinary and international, sharing the focus that sophisticated industrial societies are inevitably creeping toward an improper surveillance level (Burnham, 2015).     

Aims and Objectives

Overall Aim and Objective

This research paper will contribute heavily to the ethical comprehension of the surveillance-able UAS’s civil use, otherwise referred to as “drones.” It centers on examining the current and possible future applications and capabilities of such drones, the privacy and ethical issues that they raise and their ethical acceptability. In every single one of these contexts, there has been very little comprehensive and systematic research that has been done (Finn & Wright, 2016). Since the employment of drones with aerial surveillance and observational abilities is variously debated to bring enormous benefits but also considerable privacy ethical concerns, this research was thus deemed in order   

Specific Aims

This research study was intended for the provision of answers to two very significant questions:

  • To what degree is the civil drones’ uses that have the capacity for unrestricted surveillance ethically warranted considering their potential ethical values and privacy effects?
  • What ethical issues should be reflected upon to develop the ethical acceptability of civil drone usage with a capacity for unrestricted public surveillance?

In this research, it was found appropriate to clarify various terms for discernment purposes briefly. The term “surveillance” will often be used to mean simple observation as well as surveillance loosely. Surveillance refers to the sustained and close monitoring of individuals, their exchange of information and other behaviors to protect or influence them (Karlsrud & Rosen, 2013). Though included in the research paper analysis is the ethical influence of all observation forms, the majority of the most critical ethical considerations emanate from the surveillance capabilities of drones, hence the reason this research paper will opt to use the term “surveillance” instead of “observation.” 

Further, with regard to “public surveillance,” it is the surveillance that takes place in public spaces that include social spaces that are usually accessible and open to individuals. Beaches, parks, public squares, and roads are characteristically considered public spaces. Similarly, buildings that are frequented by the public also count as public spaces to an extent (Scott, 2017). These include public libraries and train stations. 

Surprisingly, drones can be viewed as expanding the public surveillance definition to incorporate public airspace surveillance, which significantly adds numerous non-public outdoor spaces to the landscape that is publicly visible. Thus, this research paper will use this advanced definition. Moreover, public surveillance capable drones that can be classified as non-tethered and unmanned aircraft including ground supporting systems that can fly using onboard propulsion means have either onboard computers for self-control or have human pilots remote controlling them.

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Significance and Background

The ATE (Anticipatory Technology Ethics) approach will form this research paper’s overarching methodology. This is a fairly new approach for emerging technologies’ ethical study. It uses futures studies and forecasting to tackle uncertainty problems concerning a technology’s societal consequences, applications, and future devices. Hence, in line with the ATE approach, the research will examine future applications and capabilities of drones that are surveillance capable, where the results will form the ethical analysis for input in this research. Another major ATE approach feature is that it utilizes ethical analysis in three separate levels: the application level, the artifact level, and the technology level (Brey, 2017). 

Thus, this research paper will analyze drones that have the capacity for surveillance in terms of drone technology surveillance capability at various drones’ applications, various surveillance-capable drones, and large drones as well. These separate levels will provide for an ethical analysis that is comprehensive about civil drone use that shall incorporate fundamental ethical issues related to the technology of drones (West & Bowman, 2016). A more contingent and specific research will be conducted on issues concerning specific drone applications as well as specific drone types. 

Additionally, this research paper will adapt or expand the ATE approach to the particulars of the underlying case. Most importantly, the ATE expansion approach will present a comprehensive account on the way to determine conflicts of value during ethical evaluations including ways to resolve a technology’s ethical permissibility or a technological artifact. With regard to drones’ technology that is surveillance capable, this research will prove that in the civil context, the notion is justified ethically since the marginal benefits related to its current and future use considerably outweighs the insignificant harm it causes. However, considering the numerous ethical concerns present in drone technology that require careful consideration, this research paper will delve into them to improve the ethical acceptability of the technology. 

Initially, the research will argue that the privacy issues related to privacy of image and data, property privacy, the privacy of association, the privacy of space and locations including behavioral privacy have a very big societal significance. Most important though is the aspect of behavioral privacy since it critically contributes to an unsettling effect on outdoor space of society (Acquisti, Brandimarte, & Loewenstein, 2015).

Research Methods and Design

Privacy protection has its restrictions in the United States legal system. In light of this, and partly owing to technologies’ rapid development, numerous privacy issues are bound to arise. This research paper will thus focus on the value of privacy from the legal system viewpoint of the United States. Further, this research will endorse the research methods and design favored by Solove in his writing “A Brief History of Information Privacy Law.” (Solove & Schwartz, 2014). In his writing, Solove details the growth of international privacy legislation since colonial America to the mid-2000’s consumer privacy legislation. In this regard, the methods of research that shall play centerfold in this research paper shall be expert interviewing, trend analysis and environmental scanning. Additionally, in the research design, issues concerning telephone wiretapping, telegraph security, mail opening and census data confidentiality shall also be raised.

Since this research paper will involve mixed methodologies of obtaining data, the qualitative-quantitative-qualitative method is seen as the most appropriate. Further, the research will capitalize more on expert interviews to achieve used qualitative work and obtain credible data. A quantitative examination of the interviews shall be made, followed by a qualitative final scenario development method that shall be used for analysis and presentation of the results. 

The reason that this method shall be the preferred choice in the analysis is because it shall enable the introduction of the cross-impact analysis quantitative step that will provide a mixed methodology. This methodology will be valuable in the overall research that may aid in achieving amazing results that might not be attained using just the qualitative approach. By using a quantitative analysis step amid the other steps, it is more likely that the research shall achieve the most consistent and frequent results from a broad range of general possibilities (Thomas, 2016). Notably, researcher bias will be reduced, which will ultimately increase the findings’ credibility. Moreover, judiciously applied the mixed methodology, and the approach will enable this research while using qualitative data collection to have a more robust basis in terms of data display and analysis.   

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Strengths and Weaknesses

Since drones are a budding technology, it follows that there seems to be a rapid change that is underway as regards technology. In the context of this research, it is vital to acknowledge these alterations in technology and seek appropriate ways to explore them. The best possible way in this regard will be to engage in futurology or futures studies. Future studies are a significant field of study since individuals will inhabit a future world that is likely to be quite dissimilar to today’s world in numerous significant ways (Lashua, 2017). More importantly, issues such as local decentralization, globalization, and technological development are taking place at an even more rapid rate. This realization has compelled corporations, militaries, governments and other organizations to have a clearer understanding of the future that they may be able to influence it in greater depths. 

As earlier seen, the ATE approach is a methodologically and conceptually rich approach in the emerging technologies ethical analysis. This incorporates a large number of research aims, levels and objects of analysis, issues and ethical principles. Additionally, it can also be applied to future emerging and contemporary technologies. Thus, ATE would be best placed as an overarching methodology in providing the most appropriate answers to this research paper’s research questions. There are several advantages of the ATE approach over the two-other main modern approaches concerning emerging technologies and the ethics thereof that were earlier mentioned (Shilton, 2015): the approach on techno-ethical scenarios, and the ethical technology assessment. Without making an in-depth comparison of the three, the research will specifically underscore the advantages of ATE over the others and briefly highlight the weaknesses of the other two. 

Primarily, the approach using ethical technology assessment has a methodology that is indistinct in terms of the performance of the ethical analysis and the way forecasting knowledge is obtained. Further, the ethical technology assessment has a rather limited checklist that is not complemented by other methods for the identification of ethical issues. The approach using techno-ethical scenarios will also be shown to have weaknesses of its own since it has been known to identify ethical issues largely through examining public moral controversies instead of using credible independent ethical assessments where issues identity is not dependent on the public debate (Wickson, Strand, & Kjolberg, 2015).

When there is an enhancement in precision, things become more comprehensive thereby becoming easier to identify. However, the development of such resolution capabilities has its limitations such as the lenses used. There has been no exponential growth in lens sharpness, which might make it impossible to keep up with imaging sensors’ resolution capabilities indefinitely. Further, in spite of the resolution enhancements, making out individuals from one image will prove challenging since it is more difficult to make out faces from an overhead situated position. Nonetheless, drones’ capabilities to track, identify, and analyze individuals’ behaviors may be progressed using the development of linkages with various other information systems. 

Advanced ICT (Information Communication Technology) infrastructures may make the creation of such connections easier. Roadside CCTV systems that have visual recognition algorithms may be able to classify motorists using their vehicles license plates and direct a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) drone to track the whereabouts of the identified motorists steadily. WAP drones will also be able to have greater autonomy levels in the future. Thus, the merits of the future use of drones far outweigh the demerits. One thing that is certain is that the war on terror will in the near future heavily rely on drones for the obliteration of terrorist groups and individual masterminds of terror attacks. Whether such actions will lead to privacy infiltration of other individuals in the process remains a subject of worthy debate. What is certain though is that humankind should embrace itself in an era where drones will be performing nearly every task from the small garden chores to the unfathomable wars. 

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