12 INVESTIGATES: Drone technology and your privacy - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

12 INVESTIGATES: Drone technology and your privacy

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Drones were once nothing more than a science fiction fantasy, but now they are a reality whose use could impact your day to day life.

They look like toys, but their potential is limitless.

"You can be sure that they will become relatively ubiquitous throughout the United States," said Paul Rosenzweig.

Drones are already being used to great success on the battlefield, serving in reconnaissance and actual attack missions for the military. But that technology is moving quickly from overseas to your backyard.

"(They can be used for things) as simple as monitoring traffic to as complicated as tracking perpetrators or looking for lost people," said Dr. Craig Woosley a researcher at Virginia Tech who uses drones on a regular basis. "They go from as small as your first to as big as, I think the largest has a 250 feet span."

With that kind of versatility, Rosenzweig, a professor with the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the uses for drone technology are beyond anyone's imagination.

"Anything that we use helicopters for now," he said "This is a better and faster alternative."

The technology is becoming available to just about anyone. The company A.R. Done has just released a consumer drone called "The Parrot."   It is a small unmanned aerial vehicle that can be held in the palm of your hand. It is mounted with two HD video cameras and operated with an iPad or iPhone and anyone, including your next door neighbor or your worst enemy, can buy one for only $300.

Governor Bob McDonnell told a Washington, D.C. radio show in the spring that he is ready to put the technology to use.

"I think it is great," McDonnell told WTOP, " I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive."

That worries Claire Guthrie Gastañaga of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.  

"The fact that the technology would allow something doesn't mean that it should be done," she said.

The second the governor said he was open to the idea of using drones, the liberal Gastañaga got on the phone to find a conservative partner to work with her on a bill to limit the government's access to the technology.

"The technology is allowing invasions of our privacy and intrusions of the government in ways that we never could've contemplated," she said.

That technological advancement creates two potential threats to your privacy. One threat comes from the government; the other comes from your next door neighbor.

"It is absolutely the case that the peeping Tom can now look over the fence and see you sunbathing next door," said Rosenzweig.

But as big as that threat may be, both Rosenzweig on the right and Gastañaga on the left agree the government is the bigger concern.

"Technology is a great thing, but using it shouldn't require us to give up our basic civil and constitutional rights," Gastañaga said.

And as the process works itself out, it will take time before the benefits of drone technology matches up with the laws designed to protect our rights.

"We are going to go in this pendulum of good uses and bad uses for quite some time until we settle down in the middle," Rosenzweig said.

In the meantime, you may never be quite sure who is watching you and where they are watching you from.

It is important to keep in mind that while the use of drones is not regulated by the government, the flying of aircraft at a certain height is regulated by the FAA.  A bill currently sponsored by Delegate Todd Gilbert would require the legislature to approve the specific use of any drone technology before it is actually implemented.

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