Don't look up… they might be watching you.
Imagine that you and your family are gathered in your backyard having a cookout. The kids are laughing, the adults are cracking open some beers. Burgers are sizzling. And all the while, your every movement is being recorded...
We're not talking about Big Brother government tracking you. We're talking about individuals with the power to monitor you and your family by using drones – unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft. Best-case scenario – it's your nosy neighbor down the street. Worst-case – it's a criminal.
If you think it's far-fetched, you're wrong. Anyone can buy and operate one – no license or training is required. Numbers on drone sales are hard to come by given the many different types on the market and the manufacturers' tendency to be tight-lipped.
Dronelife, an industry news website, estimates that based on reported revenues and average unit costs, the three biggest manufacturers will sell more than one million of the machines by the end of the year.
The venture capital research firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, estimated that drone sales have grown 167% in the past two years. The U.S. is the No. 1 consumer, accounting for about 35% of those sales.
Many drones come with onboard cameras or allow you to add your own. With the popularity of high-quality, attach-to-anything GoPro cameras as well, it's not surprising that so many people fear for their privacy.
Earlier this year, a Kentucky man – William Meredith – made headlines for shooting his neighbor's drone out of the sky as it flew over his backyard.
Privacy laws don't cover this technology yet. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has guidelines for drone pilots to prevent interference with commercial aircraft, but they cannot be enforced. Right now, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is drafting guidelines for privacy and drone use... but again, guidelines are not laws.
But in Washington, D.C., Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has recently proposed a bill that would restrict drones from flying over places like stadiums, government buildings, airports, and residential areas.
The Consumer Drone Safety Act (S. 1608) is still in the early stages of the legislative process. But you can write to your senators today about it. Urge them to support the bill. You can find your local senators here.
While you can't legally keep drones out of your yard, you can sign up to be part of a "No Fly Zone." This service acts a bit like the "Do Not Call" list that keeps you off of telemarketers' call lists. NoFlyZone.org allows people to register their homes on the site. That information is then shared with drone manufacturers. "At a bare minimum, our partners are going to be providing this information to their users," said NoFlyZone founder Ben Marcus. "Some are taking it a step further by physically preventing flight by coding in a geofence."
A geofence blocks the signals on the drone over a certain area – kind of like building a force field to keep them out. There's no guarantee yet that drone manufacturers will start programming these geofences into their software, but it is a start.
Sign up to get on the No Fly Zone here: https://www.noflyzone.org/.