NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg On Drones: 'Scary' But Inevitable

on March 25 2013 1:27 PM
Parrot AR Drone 2.0
The prevalence of drones is growing: Just look at Parrot's AR Drone 2.0, which is completely controlled with iOS and Android devices to let the user see what the drone sees. Parrot.com

Surveillance drones have many benefits, but privacy isn't one of them. Though the public has grown increasingly concerned with the government's domestic usage of drones, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes the issue is "scary" but inevitable.

"You can't keep the tides from coming in," Bloomberg told WOR Radio 710. "We're going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don't see how you stop that. It's not a question of whether I think it's good or bad -- I don't see how you stop that.

The prevalence of cameras, Bloomberg said, is part of the reason the issue is so difficult to control, especially from a legislative standpoint.

"It's scary, but what's the difference if the drone is up in the air or on the building?" Bloomberg asked. "Intellectually, I have trouble making a distinction. You're going to have face-recognition software; people are working on that. We're going into a different world unchartered, and, like it or not, what people can do or governments can do is different."

The availability of cameras and drones makes the issue particularly complex. The popular AR Drone 2.0 from Parrot, which can fly 165 feet in the air and record video in 720p HD, costs just $299. Users can also visit UAVDronesForSale.com to choose from a wide range of professional flying drones at reasonable prices -- you can even buy a hovering, streaming camera for just $49.

But it's not just flying cameras: Satellite maps from Google, Bing and others, as well as readily available real-time surveillance footage, make it easier than ever to see and be seen publicly.

"You can do it from further away, you can see more, you can do it continuously, you can do it undetected in ways you couldn't before," Bloomberg said. "And al Qaeda can do it too. It's a scary world. Everyone wants their privacy, but I don't know how you're going to maintain it."

Bloomberg didn't express a great deal of confidence in the government's ability to make effective law changes to protect citizens' privacy.

"This is something society really has to think about and not just by writing a quick piece of legislation," Bloomberg said. "These are long-term, serious problems. Whether we have the discipline to approach problems that way ... I don't know. Everybody demagogues on all these things, and there are some serious issues before you write legislation."

Here is the full text from this particular excerpt of Bloomberg's radio interview, courtesy of WOR Radio 710.

WOR: What's your position on drones? Domestic use of drones by the NYPD or any other entity?

Bloomberg: It's scary, but what's the difference if the drone is up in the air or on the building. Intellectually, I have trouble making a distinction. You're going to have face-recognition software; people are working on that. We're going into a different world unchartered, and, like it or not, what people can do or governments can do is different, and you can to some extent control, but you can't keep the tides from coming in. We're going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don't see how you stop that. It's not a question of whether I think it's good or bad -- I don't  see how you stop that.

WOR: The question is: Where do you draw a particular line?

Bloomberg: Well, if I fly a drone, and I bring it outside your house and start peering inside your bedroom window, [but] if I walk up to your house and maybe the property line is so close to your window that I'm not on your property and look in, there's gotta be Peeping Tom legislation. I suppose we've addressed the issue a little bit, but now it's going to be much more serious. You can do it from further away, you can see more, you can do it continuously, you can do it undetected in ways you couldn't before. And al Qaeda can do it too. It's a scary world. Everyone wants their privacy, but I don't know how you're going to maintain it. This is something society really has to think about and not just by writing a quick piece of legislation. These are long-term, serious problems. Whether we have the discipline to approach problems that way ... I don't know. Everybody demagogues on all these things, and there are some serious issues before you write legislation.

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