So You Want to File a Restraining Order Against a Drone
Not that you bristle at the thought of all drones. Maybe you don't necessarily mind the prospect of a cafécopter fetching your morning fix or of small-fry drones fulfilling any number of dull, dirty, or dangerous tasks, like spotting your sorry ass on a mountainside, cold and with a broken ankle, after you've gone missing on a hike. You'd just rather police drones not watch your daily goings on ad nauseum and without your consent, and that's cool. Besides, that thing up there has been trailing you for what feels like the past week. If only there were some sort of legal recourse to see that the drone buzz off and out of your life for good.
There isn't, at least, not yet. But while filing a restraining order against an unmanned aerial system may still sound pretty far fetched, it's apparently conceivable enough—the harrassment specter of some encroaching future—to already be warranting discussion among federal agencies and privacy advocates.
I first noticed the idea raised as a line item in a petition submitted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to the Federal Aviation Administration in February 2012. The petition (PDF), which urged the agency "to conduct a rulemaking" to address the possible threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by the impending deployment of drones in US airspace, was co-signed by over 100 experts and organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In addition to looping the public into the domestic drone discussion, EPIC asked of the FAA, the agency should consider, among other things like questions around data retention and the relation between drone operations and privacy rights, the "ability of an individual to obtain a restraining order against a drone vehicle."
That got me thinking: How would that even work? Should it come to it, under what circumstances would such legal action be valid? You can see where this is going: What'd be the bar, the threshold at which, once crossed, you'd be able to say, "OK, not cool, I want to be sure this thing stays the hell away from me"? Three unwanted passes? Two? One? With today's insane imaging specs, what'd be considered too much? Three too many gigabytes of footage of you trudging to the office and back, or of your kid walking to school? Two too many? One too many?
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