On May 18, Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, issued a statement criticizing those who advocate shooting down unmanned aerial vehicles because their surveillance
technologies might violate privacy.
While UAVs themselves are not a video technology, they are a platform for that technology and aerial drone use is expected to grow at an unbelievable rate, providing potential for video-equipment producers. As the head of a UAV advocacy group, it is understandable why Toscano is critical of media supporting the shooting of aerial drones.
“To advocate for people to shoot down any object from U.S. airspace is irresponsible, dangerous and unlawful. Unmanned aerial systems are being designed to serve the public good, such as helping search and rescue officers find missing children, monitor weather and wildlife, provide disaster relief and respond to emergencies, as they did in the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan last year. The myriad of important uses will be imperiled if they become targets.
“AUVSI welcomes civil discussions about privacy and the proper uses of unmanned aircraft, but it cannot and does not condone violence against technology intended to keep citizens safe while saving taxpayer dollars.” Toscano provided concrete examples of why that statement was necessary. Those include statements by conservative syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer and a scene from the fictional NBC television show Harry’s Law.
Krauthammer urges UAVs be banned entirely in the United States, and he predicts “the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring down a drone that’s hovering over his house is gonna be a folk hero in this country,” Toscano said.
In addition, “Harry’s Law also recently portrayed its main character (‘Harriet Korn’ played by Kathy Bates) shooting down a ‘drone’ in just such a situation,” he wrote.
Toscano might have used the space to include Fox News contributor Anthony Napolitano, whom news reports quote as saying, “The first American patriot that shoots down one of these drones that comes too close to his children in his backyard will be an American hero.”
While the concern over privacy is understandable, and statements supporting shooting down UAVs might make those opposed to aerial drones feel good, it is not that simple. In the May 2012 Video Agenda, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in two cases that police can deploy aircraft over “public navigable airspace in a physically non-intrusive manner.”
The columnists say the first person to shoot down a UAV is going to be “a folk hero,” and that is probably true. But if that occurs, unlike in Harry’s Law, the problem will not be resolved by the end credits. Rather, it is likely the authorities will—rightfully—hold the shooter accountable. Critics of domestic UAVs raise important points of debate. But irresponsible rhetoric of the kind cited by Toscano can only encourage irresponsible behavior.