Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lords want to register drones

The House of Lords is doing what it does again, this time urging the EU to create an online database of drone owners.  This, it says, is to prevent people flying drones into aircraft although – as with virtually all such databases – it’s not clear how this would help.  When asked about this, the House of Lords EU committee said that the database “would help the authorities manage and keep track of drone traffic.”

Your guess is as good as mine.  The committee made some other predictable recommendations including geo-fencing and kite marks to certify which drones are certified as being safe to fly.

All these recommendations are troubling.  I might be open to the idea of licensing drone pilots after a short (and cheap) course on safety, responsibility and the law, but this seems a rather different thing to registering drone owners.  The only reason for registering drone owners is to have a handy list of people to investigate if something happens that they don’t like.  Given that the majority of people doing bad things with drones are unlikely to bother to register them, the database is likely to be of limited use at best.

I can see the point of geo-fencing, to an extent.  We probably shouldn’t be flying drones around airports, for example. But it’s dangerous territory.  Currently in the UK we’re forbidden to fly drones within 150m of an area where large crowds are gathered.  This is problematic because those are the exactly the sorts of place we need drones to go; if police are mis-handling a crowd-control situation, for example, it’s something we need to know about and document.

Kite marking is also superficially beneficial, but again we have to be careful.  If it becomes illegal fly drones without the kite mark, it’s tantamount to outlawing hobbyists from building their own drones.  Not only is this a ridiculous over-reaction to the perceived threat, but it would further enforce whatever geo-fencing or spyware the government wants to force on drones.

I agree that we need to consider the threats posed by drones but we also need to think about the threats of drone regulation.  In particular, I don’t want it to be illegal to film the situations where our police are under the most pressure and most likely to misbehave.

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