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Legal and Ethical Issues Involving Civilian Use of Drones


The civilian use of drones has become an unprecedented issue in modern society. With their invention and popularization, drones have produced a plethora of problems that lawmakers had to address and set boundaries around. Due to the fact that the concept of drones is so new and expands the capabilities of the user in various ways, it presented a unique problem that has to be dealt with in a new way in regards to the privacy of those around the drone, how the safety of bystanders can be affected, and what restrictions and regulations can be placed around the use, purchase, and manufacturing of these drones in pedestrian areas by civilians.


As drones came into use commercially and recreationally, it wasn’t long before cameras started to be implemented on these drones to get a unique birds eye view of any landscape with ease. With these cameras came the concern of people’s privacy in suburban areas [22]. Many were concerned that these cameras could record footage regarding people’s private business on their property, or to anonymously keep track of their whereabouts. This information could be used for malicious purposes, such as to plan home invasions or to blackmail an individual. Since there are little to no regulations that restrict where drones can go and what they can record, the acquisition of this information is perfectly legal. Without rigorous and specific regulation on drones with cameras and where they can go and film, it is difficult to prevent drones with cameras from invading the privacy of people while maintaining adequate freedom for the lawful use of cameras. Current strategies for accomplishing this task include developing no-fly zones for drones, government-enforced restrictions on drones and their use, and efforts from drone companies to ease the unrest the public has about the privacy issues drones produce. As official regulation takes a long time to come into effect and be enforced, it is not uncommon for companies to take the matter into their own hands and developing policies to deal with these drones [21].


With any new significant technological advancement, safety is always one of the first concerns that comes up in discussion around it. Concerning drones, the conversation regarding safety starts with the ability of the users to safely operate these devices. To safely pilot drones, it requires hours of practice with the controls of the device to understand how they operate, as well as to get a feel for how the device flies. The concern is inexperienced drone users operating in public areas and losing control of their drones and causing damage to public or private property. It is the responsibility of the pilot to maintain control of their respective drone and they are responsible for any damage caused by their drones. In the case of accidents or incidents, it is important for insurance policies to be present to help cover the damage caused by the lawful and accidental use of drones [2]. As it is with automobiles, damage caused by drones can be become very expensive, so available insurance policies should be offered with the purchase of every drone [4]. The most pressing safety concern from drones is how drones will affect aviation operations, mainly low-altitude aircraft and other drones. As drones are developed and become more powerful, the more of a threat drones pose to low flying aircraft, such as those meant for tourists or commercial planes landing at a nearby airport [7]. Not only would a drone collision with an airplane cause significant property damage, but it also threatens the lives of everyone on the plane. An impact with the engine of a plane could cause engine failure and could result in a crash.

Other safety concerns are a result of what drones are capable of. As stated previously, drones could be used to track the whereabouts of a person anonymously, to coordinate a whole category of malicious activities. These include home invasions, kidnapping, destruction of property, and even murder. Drones can also provide a node for cyber-attacks to be executed from, allowing for incognito insertion and extraction from the targeted zone. Instead of attaching a camera to a drone, or in addition to, the necessary technology to make a cyber-assaults signal or connection to the desired system stronger by putting the technology in closer proximity with the target than otherwise possible. Finally, drones can also assist in anonymous terrorist attacks on the public or private institutions [14]. With a drone, delivering highly explosive material into the middle of populated areas, or into proximity of vital infrastructure, has never been easier and at lower risk to terrorist’s groups [14]. Drones provide a perfect medium to deliver harmful explosive or hazardous materials to target locations.

Despite the negative concerns that drones present, they also can provide a safety net in some situations that no other technology can quite be used for. In times of crisis, such as a person lost in the wilderness or in the rubble of a catastrophe. Drones can cover a lot more area in the air and search through rubble or trees much more efficiently than humans on foot can and can identify lost people or body much quicker than a search party. In the case of those lost at sea, drones can provide solace by locating them in the vast ocean much faster than a boat or helicopter can, and a fleet of drones released can accomplish all of those tasks exponentially quicker. The applications for drones in search and rescue situations is invaluable and will save hundreds of lives [23].

As well as being able to search for those in needs and provide support, drones can also go where humans cannot easily access or is dangerous for them to go [1]. A quality of being an unfeeling machine, drones can be sent into places with high temperatures or places too difficult to reach by humans, such as the wall face of dams to check for cracks or imperfections, or the inside of volcano calderas where the temperature is much too high for any human to comfortably operate in [1]. Drones can be used here to inspect the environment to see if it is worth it for a human to be sent to do the necessary work that a drone alone can’t accomplish.


It is important for drone use to follow the same template as any other type of vehicle or recreational hobby that has the potential to cause significant damage to others or invade the privacy of others [10]. The most basic of these regulations is that prospective drone users must obtain a license to legally fly drones in a public or near public setting. To obtain a license, a series of classes must be taken to ensure the user knows the rules and regulations that revolve the use of drones. These other regulations include the registration of every drone that is purchased, to keep track of who has what type of drone, rules regarding when a person can fly their drone, making sure every person knows that drones must only be flown within line of sight of the pilot at all times to ensure the drone stays a safe distance from other aircraft and pedestrians, as well as the times that drones are allowed to be flown and at what maximum altitudes. Finally, it is important for users to be aware of the relevant no-fly zones in their area, and to always be conscious of their proximity to them [5]. These regulations are meant to support the lawful and safe practice of recreational drone flying, and to maintain a safe airspace in the presence of these drones.

Privacy Concerns and Public Action

Privacy Concerns

Ever since the fabled tale of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom, humanity has gone great lengths to preserving their property, loved ones, and sensitive information away from unwanted attention. Today, civilians have become increasingly concerned about their privacy now that most drones available on the market come equipped with or have the utility to mount cameras that can record or take pictures from up above. Those who once felt safe in their fenced off yards have now become skeptical of any Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) they see and may take it upon themselves to shootdown/neutralize observers from the sky. It’s imperative that we understand the current global concerns and actions the public has towards drones so that proper legislation is passed to ensure the privacy of those around the world.

Civilian drones create multiple areas of concern for the public. In their article Drones Are here to Stay, But These Four Key Concerns Still Need to Be Addressed, Quora elaborates on how privacy concerns are at large due to how new the subject is to the public [23]. While Quora covers four major concepts throughout their writing (Safety, Security, Privacy, and Public Nuisance), the author states that the public concern for privacy can only be quelled after enough time has passed to mature the subject along with drone pilots practicing self-discipline to be trusted in society. Without responsible drone operators maintaining a reasonable distance from others and uneasy airspace, the public will look down upon any drone enthusiast/hobbyist they see so long as they see drones with cameras up in the sky. And while a large amount of the public may be worried about their privacy against, another issue hampering the subjects understanding is the limited scope of stories the media covers. In the article Enough with the “Sunbathing Teenager” Gambit, Margot Kaminski argues that the driving drone privacy narrative is predominately focused on trivial privacy threats such as observing and recording sunbathing women rather than the major areas such as government surveillance and location tracking [13].

Drone catching a sun-bather

This type of narrative towards drone privacy leads to an incomplete representation of the subject to the public, which would ultimately lead to inadequate legislation being passed that would only protect the “sunbathing” scenarios and leaving significant issues out of the law. It’s imperative that the media largens its coverage of drone privacy so that the public the subject as a larger picture which would then come to attention of legislators that establish and create laws pertaining to drone usage.

As drones become more viable for work environments each year, society has begun to question the overall threat workforce drones have pertaining to their privacy. Benny Evangelista writes about some of the many advantages law enforcement could have using drones, as well as the public concerns that go along with their operations in the article Fire, Police Drones Caught Between Public Safety and Privacy Concerns[8]. While Evangelista elaborates on certain advantages drones would have in law enforcement such as faster accident response times and tracking criminals where helicopters cannot, civilians would be nervous if not skeptical when seeing police drones deployed as the public is unable to determine whether the drone is out for a call or being used to patrol/surveillance civilians who are carrying out their daily lives. Another major concern for the public pertaining to civilian and service drones is the difficulty to distinguish the two from a distance. If someone wished to surveillance an area with their drone in disguise, they only need to make their drone appear as a police variant (if the police department modified their service drones), and the public wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless they track the drone back to its owner. This type of manipulation would unease many towards airborne drones and could cause even more tension between civilians and their local law enforcement.

The last privacy concern researched pertains to drone users having the ability to upload and share pictures and footage from their flight sessions with virtually anyone across the globe thanks to the internet.

While many hobbyists upload their footage to websites such as Facebook and YouTube to share with others the world from a perspective once thought impossible, anyone with an internet connection can see and analyze the location the drone pilot records. With the freedom drone users have, published images and recordings can trouble the minds of many about their privacy and safety as their city, neighborhood, and even house can be seen in detail by criminals, thieves, and possibly terrorist organizations. In her article How Drones Raised Privacy Concerns Across CyberspaceJen Fifield elaborates that despite privacy laws being passed throughout more and more states each year, drones are complicating the online privacy dilemma due to the annual increase of registered drones throughout the United States, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishing new rules on how to operate drones, but not covering any areas on privacy issues [27]. To establish proper privacy laws regarding civilian drones, state governments need ample time to consider and validate their laws to protect their civilians. Despite government efforts however, many civilians and companies have taken it upon themselves to create and use various tactics to ground nearby drones for good.

Public Action

When it comes to drones being used, operators run the risk of potentially being taken out of the sky in a large amount of ways for various reasons. Due to civilian drones being classified as personal aircraft, civilian drones must abide by and stay out of restricted areas like actual airplanes do to avoid being taken down by Anti-UAV Defense Systems (AUDS) [26]. While it may be relatively black and white for governments to give reasoning behind their actions to take down drones, the same cannot be said for an average civilian who decides to take down a drone due to their privacy being tampered with. Numerous reports have been covered by the media in the past years, but despite society taking hostile action towards drone hobbyists and their property, legal action has not been consistent, and companies have been creating new ways of neutralizing drones in restricted airspace.

Given the volatile and rapid changes of human nature, it can be rather difficult to predict how an individual or group will react to certain situations. When specific individuals feel threatened by something, they may act to ensure that whatever they feel is a threat is taken care of immediately. One such incident is of a man named Augustine Lehecka being arrested for damaging a company drone with a t-shirt [3]. Lehecka claimed that the UAV was dangerously low towards the ground and posed a threat to both his groups safety and their privacy. His actions ultimately costed him time in jail before posting a $10,000 bail and costed the drone company $750 in damages. Another incident of the public taking hostile action is the case of Austin Haughwout, a drone hobbyist that was assaulted and accused of spying on women on a public beach by a woman named Andrea Mears [18]. Austin was falsely accused of breaching the privacy of those on the beach and was almost arrested until he presented a video of their interactions showing that Andrea not only lied to the police but assaulted Austin without warning. Her actions ultimately caused her to be placed in jail with being charged for assault and breaching the peace of the public. Due to Austin’s recording, this case was one of the few that leaned into the drone operators favor.

While the incidents of Lehecka and Austin varied in the methods and victims of damage, justice was ultimately delivered after reviewing the incident from a legal standpoint. Upon further research into other cases, not every drone flyer is compensated for the damage done from agitated individuals. One such incident is of a man named Brad Jones whose drone was shot down by an unknown shooter during one of his frequent evening flights [9]. Jones

flight data revealed that he maintained his flight pattern over his own property and currently has nobody to hold accountable for taking down his drone. Another incident where a drone became a victim of being shot down is the drone of David Boggs [17]. Boggs’s drone was shot down by William Merideth due to being suspected of spying on his sixteen-year-old daughter while she was sunbathing.

After the incident was taken into court, the judge ruled in Williams favor despite Boggs providing the drones flight recording and flight data. These incidents, along with the other previously given all represent the limited coverage media has on drone privacy, legislation failing to provide consistent results on given incidents, and the notion that the public is willing to take any form of action to neutralize what they feel as a threat to their safety and privacy. While the FAA has ruled in the past that threatening a drone or its operator can be considered a federal crime subject to five years in prison, various companies have been working towards creating new technologies to down drones without causing any damage to the drone or nearby property [21]. Products such as Battelle’s DroneDefender jammer, DroneShield’s DroneGun, and OpenWork’s SkyWall net launcher are currently available on the open market, but their price tags suggest they’re catered towards governments and companies for the time being [16]. Other countries aside the United States have also made progress in creating UAV disrupting equipment. Countries such as China have been successful in creating a signal-jamming gun like the previously mentioned products and have proven to be capable of neutralizing drones half a mile away [16].

Advantages and Disadvantages Regarding Safety


Drones present a variety of solutions to safety as well as creating its own safety concerns. Drones have gone down in the books for being the savior of numerous people’s lives. Individuals all around the globe have put their civilian drones to use to aid people facing life-threatening emergencies. DJI, a company that specializes in creating civilian drones has gone on record stating “a drone is saving nearly one person’s life a week on average.” In less than three years, civilian drones created by DJI have been used to save at least 59 people in 18 different scenarios worldwide [22]. An example of this remarkable performance takes place in 2013 when a drone in Canada was used to locate a missing person who was lost in the snow, who otherwise may have been found too late. Civilian drones can be used to lower supplies to a person at risk or can even offer support to pull them out of a desperate situation. According to Forbes, in 2015 two teenagers were at risk of drowning, but a drone was carefully used to lower life vests and ropes to successfully pull them out and save their lives. One of the most notable acts of heroism using drones was during the horrific and devastating floods that occurred in India in December 2015. Up to 200 individuals were rescued from the catastrophic floods. DJI found that one-third of the

heroes were standard civilians, non-professionals, and volunteers [22]. The scenarios previously described provide safety to everyone involved. The users of the drone can safely and successfully aid in natural disasters or any other random catastrophic tragedies. Without drones, successfully saving someone caught in a flash flood could potentially mean putting oneself in harm’s way. Risking your own life does not have to be an option now that civilian drones are becoming more and more popular, as shown below.

Graph showing the use of drones increasing

Not only do civilian drones provide quality safety percussions; drones also can make certain jobs and duties much easier for the standard working class individual. Civilian drones have the capability of recording dangerous or hazardous areas from a variety of different heights, angles, and distances. Drones can basically take the place of ladders, snorkel lifts, and sky-jacks in jobs that require an elevated view, especially ones requiring inspections. A team of workers may need to examine towers, tall buildings, volcanic faults, or in-progress construction sites which are all extremely dangerous without the correct equipment. This is where the use of civilian drones is really put to the test. For example, if power lines need to be maintained or worked on, the power must be temporarily disabled to prevent serious injury. However, by using a drone, an individual can get up close and acquire detailed video for their records without ever having to turn off the power or encounter any danger. The risk of an injury on the job is minimized drastically. Maintaining oil rigs is another notably hazardous job. Oil rigs have hazard areas called ‘flare tips.’ A flare tip is an “exhaust port punctuated with dangerous fire,” which produces a major obstacle when workers need to navigate and inspect every mechanism of the rig thoroughly [1]. A human never has to enter these life-threatening hazard zones with the use of a flying drone which can navigate easily through the obstacles. The company Inspectifly is an industrial drone service headquartered in New York that specializes in providing the labor and drones to inspect any situation that can potentially be hazardous or dangerous. As drones become more advanced, individuals working in a variety of fields will begin to see a decline in risky business.


Although the accomplishments of drones are miraculous, drones do not solely produce positive effects. The fact that drones are so easily purchasable can mean putting a drone in the hands of someone who is not capable of flying it or someone who will use it for wicked endeavors. It is the people’s responsibility to learn how to safely handle drones causing unreliable safety. In the article, Do You Think Drones Are Safe, Juan J. Alonso, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University, states that many of the drone buyers are not fully aware of the power and capability of them. They are sophisticated machines and need to be regulated to assure safety to the public, being the reason that the FAA limits the altitude of drones to 400 feet [12].

Recently law makers declared a law that the “FAA can’t regulate small unmanned aircraft identical to those used by businesses if they’re being flown for ‘hobby or recreational purposes’” [23]. This means that a drone pilot isn’t making money off their flights, the drone will not be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. This can create scary possibilities. The versatility of drones has been discovered by criminals and could potentially be used for kidnapping, home invasions, and even as a terrorism device. This is so much the case that Homeland Security has even warned the public of weaponized drones being used as terror threat. The senior official at the department of Homeland Security stated that “terrorists continue to target commercial aviation and air cargo, including with concealed explosives” [14]. Criminals are using the drones to purposely interfere with commercial aviation, and because drones can land in the hands of anyone, it also creates a risk to any general aviation aircraft operation when the operator is an individual who will not abide by the laws enacted by the FAA. According to KOMO NEWS, in 2015, the FAA launched an investigation after a helicopter crew spotted a drone flying too close to them. An FAA spokesperson stated, “an average of 25 incidents are reported every month involving drones that are flying too close to commercial aircraft” [7].

With the use of drones exploding, the number of collisions has also increased which in the worst possible scenario, involves complete loss of the helicopter causing a deadly crash. The blades on drones have also been known to be an antagonist for safety. One incident occurred on December 4th, 2014 when a couple was posing for a picture at their local TGI Friday’s. They sat under a drone carrying mistletoe for what they thought would be a beautiful moment, but the operator lost control of the drone. According to The Brooklyn Daily, the drone managed to cut off a portion of the man’s nose and some off his chin [22]. Being that it is so easy for someone to purchase a drone, the operators rarely have any experience when their first drone is purchased. An Australian triathlete has also been victim to injuries from poor drone operators. The victim, Raija Ogden sustained head injuries when a photographer capturing images of the race, lost control and caused it to crash into her head just moments before the finish line [2]. Drones are high powered devices that can indefinitely cause harm if not used correctly and cautiously.

Current Drone Regulations

General Regulations

In the United States drones are regulated by the FAA. To start with any drone, UAS’s (Unmanned Aircrafts Systems) must be registered just like any other type of vehicle or hobby the could cause potential damage. It costs $5 and is good for 3 years, with the only requirements that you must be 13 and be a legal US citizen. Any drone being flown be a civilian must be under 55 pounds. To be able to fly the drone in public you are required to have a Remote Pilot License, to qualify you need to be sixteen and take an exam. The following is the FAAs general laws on how, when and where you can fly; Fly your drone at or below 400 feet, Keep your drone within your line of sight, Be aware of FAA Airspace Restrictions, Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports, Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people, Never fly near emergencies such as fires or hurricane recovery efforts, Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Comparing these to traffic laws most are very similar, obviously you can’t operate either of them under the influence but things like how you can fly can be compared to the speed limit or never flying near emergencies could be compared to moving over for emergency vehicles [10].

State and Local Regulations

Some places like New York City have their own drone regulation that restrict flying even more then what FAA enforces. New York City has five specific parks in which drone and model aircrafts; Calvert Vaux, Marine Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Forest Park, and La Tourette Park. Anywhere else in the city is strictly a no-fly zone for personal use [5]. The state of Florida also has unique drone regulations and most have to do with privacy. In Florida the law states “the observation of such persons with sufficient visual clarity to be able to obtain information about their identity, habits, conduct, movements, or whereabouts”. This has caused some controversy because any kind of drone activity could potentially fall under this law [6]. As of the end of January according to The National Conference of State Legislators, 38 of the 50 states have adopted some sort of drone regulations or have adopted resolutions addressing drones. 18 states- Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming already have passed regulations dealing with drones. Three other states have adopted resolutions for drones. Alaska has a task force for managing and enforcing drone laws, as well as funding University of Alaska Fairbanks to help drone research with various federal agencies [19]. North Dakota has made investments to help the growth of the drone industry as well as investing in better ways of issuing permits [20]. Utah has made a partnership with NASA to start a testing facility. In all three of these states bills addressing drone, they all promote the development with safety being a major goal of drone while making the registrations and permitting of drones a smoother process [29].


Just like with anything that has laws or regulations there are penalties if they are broken. The biggest one is not registering your drone. If you are caught flying unregistered drone that is required to be, you could face up to 3 years in prison, $250,00 in various fines and up to $27,000 in civil penalties. In Florida the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” classifies drones with any type of camera a means of surveillance. This means if a person believes there being surveilled by a drone, no matter what kind of drone or the pilots intend, that person can sue for damages of having their privacy invaded [6].

Industry Support

DJI, which is the main drone manufacture has built in safety features to ensure pilots are adhering to regulation. This software includes; DJI’s Geospatial Environment Online which updates in real time a map other no-fly zones, unlocked requests which allows you two requests and obtain permission to fly in restricted zones. Other features of their software include reminders when batteries are low, so the drone won’t fall out of the sky, altitude monitoring, and home point setting in case the drone loses signal to the controller.

Parrot, the second largest drome manufacture for main stream drones provides much less support when it comes to assisting their users in complying with regulations. Unlike DJI they have not material or information about drone regulation on their website [4]. Beside from manufactures provide help on their websites or in the app which controls the drone, other organizations have put out apps to help you fly safe. The FAA has an app called B4UFLY which shows if you’re currently in a clear location to fly or it even has a “Planner Mode” which allows you to check status of different flight locations. Another app which allows you to look at no-fly zones around the world on Google maps is called Drone Zones which was developed by Newcastle University in the U.K [11].

Like cars or any other equipment civilians might use that could cause potential damage, there is regulations and registrations involved with drones. Regulations are set in place to ensure drone user practice safety and cause no harm to others as well as respecting privacy since drones can intrude in places a person might not be able to access easily. The registration allows the government to ensure drones are operated by responsible pilots and if there’s even a need to instill punishment on a pilot for not following regulations. While the FAA is the main govern body of drones, states have pass their own regulations to fix the needs of specific environments or concerns. While drone regulations haven’t fully been addressed yet, what’s current out there right is designed to make the process easy and as effected as possible with discouraging the use of drones. The two main issues drone regulations address are safety and privacy [10].

Future Developments

The future of drones and their civilian usage is unpredictable. This is due to the exponential growth and regulatory changes commercial drones have seen over recent years in almost every aspect. The main concerns of most people however fall under the four categories of Mason’s four ethical issues: privacy, accuracy, property, and accessibility. The concern for the future of privacy is a prominent one today, and especially with the addition of recent acts of terror the world has been facing, drones are certainly not aiding the elimination of that concern. The future of accuracy may be in even further danger given the aid of commercial drones and their optical abilities. In addition to the concerns for the future of privacy and accuracy when it comes to drones, property is also a growing concern with both intellectual and physical property being affected. The final ethical issue, Accessibility, entails what information a person or organization has access to, and the conditions that it is safeguarded, and with the large growth in commercial drones over recent years may begin to cause doubts concerning what information is truly safe. The future of all four of these ethical issues regarding civilian drone usage is not a positive one, and it will continue in the negative direction if not shown attention.

Privacy is always a concern on people’s minds when a new product or invention becomes globally accepted and used on a wide scale. However, drones have brought to light a new level of concern for this category. With the implementation of cameras on these devices, privacy in your own home may become an increasingly miniscule possibility. Most commercial drones can fly at hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet above the earth, allowing them to exceed any building limit, and view the interior of that building if necessary. This also allows them to become practically invisible to the naked eye and silent to the ear, creating a scenario where people may be unaware they are being watched. An example of a scenario such as this has already happened and continues to happen around the world on a consistent basis. In 2015, a 75-year-old man from Oklahoma used his drone to capture footage of a man in a car with a suspected prostitute [15]. Both the man and the woman were arrested for acts of lewdness and released shortly after. This case never would have been brought to light without the use of a commercial drone, and despite this drone bringing justice to the courts, it shows what they may be capable of in the future if put in the wrong hands. With the increase in camera resolution and drone altitude capabilities, there is no limit on what the future abilities of drones will be, and the amount that privacy will be directly affected by it.

Accuracy has been a growing topic of debate since the rise of the internet in the 1990s. This has been the case simply because people are concerned for their own information and its veracity when it is displayed for the world to see. In recent years, this problem has been growing exponentially faster than it has been previously, and that is partially due to drones and their capabilities. Drones can capture footage from its on-board camera and relay it back to the pilot in real time, allowing the pilot to save that footage on his phone or tablet with ease. Despite this functionality seeming advantageous and convenient, it can be very dangerous. This information is in no way safeguarded during the transaction between the drone and the receiver, and its path could easily be obstructed. If someone wished to capture this information from your drone before it interacts with your receiver, it would be very possible for them to do so, and increasingly more so in future implications. If this were to occur, they could then alter the information, create an inaccurate representation of the data or footage captured, then release it on the internet for the world to see. For example, if a drone pilot is capturing footage of a beach on a nice day, it could easily be altered to make it seem as if he is attempting to capture inappropriate views of people instead, which could quickly eradicate that pilot’s social presence. If nothing is done to prevent this in the future, the problem will only become more significant and more frequent. With the inevitable future increase in technological capabilities and its implications in scenarios such as this, policies or regulations in software or in federal law must be implemented as soon as possible.

Property has been a concern for almost everybody since the beginning of time, whether it has been intellectual property, or physical real estate. With the surge in the production of commercial drones in recent years, and with the ever-increasing optical abilities of them, it has become an even larger concern. In terms of intellectual property, the information is relatively safe given that drones cannot read the minds of what it is observing, or at least not yet. In terms of physical property such as real estate, when drones are present, no plot of land is unviewable from any angle.

Although this also falls under the category of privacy, it could involve the environmental landscape equitably. Imagine the scenario of a robber just a few short years ago. If his intention is to rob your house, his priority may be to know the layout of your land or house to visualize the placement of any alarm systems, and to ensure an efficient crime. This information would not be readily available for him, creating a problem for the robber, and him ultimately risking jail time. However, skipping ahead to 2020, drones are now capable of self-flight without the need for a pilot, creating a real time eye in the sky surveillance option for the robber, and a way for that person to view your land and plot an efficient way to begin his crime. This may seem like an extreme example, nonetheless it is a possibility that is becoming increasingly likely without the regulation of drones and their capabilities.

Accessibility is perhaps the most negligible of the four ethical issues to most people, however it is the most prominent issue of all. Accessibility is the information an individual has the rights or access to, and the conditions under which the individual has this right or access, and how the information is safeguarded. This is a considerable issue today and throwing drones in the mix will certainly not help to reduce the concerns surrounding this topic, in fact, they will surely increase them. The future implantation of drones regarding accessibility could have globally abhorrent effects on both commercial and federal levels if not approached properly. For example, a civilian drone pilot flying his drone in Jacksonville may have good intentions, however, if he is not aware that his location is just next to a class D military airspace, he could accidently access information which the public is not allowed to see or have access to. A real-life example of this occurred not long ago in mid-2017. Two small drones entered illegal airspace over two different military bases, one of which came dangerously close to an F-22 on final approach, almost causing a catastrophe [28]. If nothing is done in regard to piloting software or laws to regulate the ability to do things such as this in the future, it may eventually lead to an incident much more imperative than a close call with an aircraft.


Overall, civilian drones and the use of them are a new and unprecedented issue in today’s society. The unexpected and exponential growth of the hobby’s popularity has brought with it the legal and ethical issues of privacy, safety, and examining regulations. Privacy became a large concern and dispute once cameras were implemented onto the chassis commercial drones. Safety became a considerable issue with the growing advancement of technology and the ability of drone pilots to handle that technology safely. Regulation became an extensive topic of discussion once the hobby of flying commercial drones began to interfere with military operations and civilian privacy. The combination of all of these unprecedented issues could lead to large dangers and disputes in society. Although all of these issues are present, they will continue to grow and become considerably more imperative as time goes on.

Despite the many issues caused by civilian drones and their commercial usage, there are many advantages of drones being commercialized and becoming prominent devices in today’s society and the future of humanity world-wide. The advantages discussed in this document include using drones for life-threatening emergencies such as using them to find people trapped in rubble or snow after a natural disaster, making jobs easier and much less dangerous for humans, or creating jobs through cinematography piloting or video editing. These advantages and the infinitely many more possible are only the beginning of what commercial drones are capable of, if approached in the correct ways. However, if the future of drones and their abilities are not correctly approached, they could cause more harm than help in society, and it is up to the users of the drones and the government to safely use these devices and to regulate them. Once a healthy balance of regulation and innovation is achieved, drones may then be very helpful tools for the community.

From a future standpoint, drones will also interfere with Mason’s four ethical issues (privacy, accuracy, property, and accessibility) if nothing is done to regulate these devices moving forward. Privacy concerning drones will continue to be a topic of controversy and an obstacle in social discussion until government regulation concerning civilian operation is implemented. Accuracy of information will continue to be an issue until regulations concerning what can be recorded and where with civilian operated drones are enforced. Intellectual and physical property will not be safe as long as drones are free to roam around the civilian world without the regulations of free-to-fly zones or height limits. Finally, accessibility will be a concern in the civilian world, given that drones now have the ability to see military operations when flying in an illegal airspace, and report these viewings to the user immediately via their smartphone or tablet, and will continue to be a concern until software is updated and regulated to allow for DJI to implement the prevention of take-off or flight paths in illegal airspace. All four of these ethical concerns are pressing issues on the future of our society and must be taken seriously to avoid further damage to civilian lives, and to ensure the well-being of people world-wide.


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Anti-UAV Defense Systems-A counter drone system meant to disrupt or neutralize unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely piloted aircraft systems, or unmanned aircraft systems.

AUDS-A counter drone system meant to disrupt or neutralize unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely piloted aircraft systems, or unmanned aircraft systems.

Drone- Any unmanned aircraft that can be flow autonomously

Federal Aviation Administration-A division of the department of transportation that retains national authority to regulate all aspects of aviation on the civilized level within our borders.

FAA-A division of the department of transportation that retains national authority to regulate all aspects of aviation on the civilized level within our borders.

No Fly Zone-A designated area where aircraft of any kind are not permitted to fly without the risk of being intercepted

Unmanned Aircraft Systems-The entirety of a system that involves the aircraft or UAV, the ground-based pilot or control center, and the communications system that allows the two to communicate

UAS-The entirety of a system that involves the aircraft or UAV, the ground-based pilot or control center, and the communications system that allows the two to communicate

Unmanned Aviation Vehicle-An aircraft piloted by remote control or onboard computer systems.

UAV-An aircraft piloted by remote control or onboard computer systems.

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