Private Drones a Threat to Civil Liberties: Google

Dennis Faas's picture

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt has warned that privately-owned drone aircraft could pose a threat to civil liberties. It's a somewhat ironic comment given Google's controversial Street View operations.

Schmidt discussed the dangers posed by drones in a recent interview with The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom. Schmidt says such drones have a long operating range and can transmit data wirelessly to the person controlling them, even passing on live video footage from an on-board camera.

At the moment, federal rules allow only approved law enforcement agencies to operate unmanned drones in the US. However, planned rule changes in 2015 would allow anyone to operate a drone as long as it weighed 55 pounds or less and kept to below 400 feet altitude. (Source:

Drones Used to Spy on Neighbors?

Schmidt speculated that such technology could even affect neighborly disputes, asking " How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard. It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?"

He also said such technology could appeal to terrorists. "I would prefer to not spread and democratize the ability to fight war to every single human being," Schmidt said. (Source:

There's a degree of irony here. Schmidt's Google has earned harsh criticism from some homeowners for the way it uses raised cameras to take photos for its Street View feature. In some cases, those shots have included people's backyards and, in one infamous case, a naked homeowner.

Google has defended itself against such criticism by arguing that its Street View vehicles operate only on public property. Whether the same can be said of drones depends on interpretation of laws about how much a person's property extends to the airspace over their land.

Idaho Restricts Cop Drone Powers

While Schmidt's concerns involve privately-owned drones, Idaho has just become the second state to specifically restrict their use of drones to police purposes. Following the lead of Virginia, Idaho will now require officers to obtain a warrant before collecting evidence using a drone.

The only exceptions will be if the police are investigating crimes involving illegal drugs, or if a public body needs to use a drone for a search and rescue mission or other public emergency.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet