The Problem With Drones: Spying and Nuisance Incidents Are on the Rise

Drone purchases are on the rise, thanks largely to both the advancement of technology and how (reasonably) inexpensive these devices have quickly become. For just a few hundred dollars, you can easily purchase a smartphone-compatible drone that offers 1080p high definition recording, live Internet streaming and more. Unfortunately, what started as little more than a hobby for photography enthusiasts has quickly ballooned into a worldwide privacy issue. Case in point: Police in the United Kingdom say that they have recently been flooded with incident reports on drone usage, creating nearly every type of trouble that you can think of.

Drone Incidents: The Situation

Because drones are so easy to obtain and even easier to use, an investigation in the United Kingdom revealed that they’re at the forefront of more than just privacy complaints. They’ve been used in situations like prison smuggling, burglary exercises and beyond. Thanks to the fact that drones can easily fly hundreds of feet in the air with little effort, they’ve also been subject to mid-air “near misses” with both commercial and private aircraft.

In 2016, British police logged a total of 3,456 different incidents involving drones – that breaks down to about ten pear day. To make matters worse, it appears that this epidemic is on the rise. There were only 1,237 incidents across all of 2015 and just 283 in 2014 – pointing to an increase of over 800% in just three years.

Perhaps the most harrowing bit of information to come out of the UK is that the “real numbers” are likely higher. Data for the entire country is not available, so this only points to incidents that at some point involved local police forces. When estimates from other government organizations are included, those numbers would rise a great deal.

The Many Dangers of Drones in the Modern World

If there’s a silver lining to this particular cloud, it’s the fact that the wide variety of incidents points to just how powerful and versatile drone technology has become. One of the most common causes for drone reports had to do with arguments between neighbors. One man even said he believed that his neighbor was flying a drone on and above his property “just to be annoying.” Another man threatened to shoot down a drone with an air rifle, citing both a general disturbance and a violation of his own privacy.

Drones used in prison smuggling definitely escalates things to an uncomfortable degree. Police forces said that drones have regularly been used to drop everything from drugs to other types of contraband onto prison grounds, making it easier for inmates to create a localized “black market” for illicit goods while incarcerated.

As one might expect, spying and privacy fears were also one of the leading causes of incidents last year. One particular case involved a man who repeatedly flew his drone over a neighbor’s private property while girls were sunbathing. Along the same lines are incidents involving upcoming burglaries. Criminals will fly a drone all around a home, recording high definition footage of entrances and exits, windows, etc. They will then review that footage to hunt for any potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited later when the break-in does occur.

Near misses were also a regular cause for alarm in the UK. In one situation, two separate pilots reported coming very close to hitting a large drone on the same day. Because drone technology is still so new, federal regulations in both the UK and the United States have yet to truly catch up. This is hardly a problem localized to these two areas, however. Earlier in 2017, a man in China was detained for flying a drone near a Chinese commercial aircraft. Drones have yet to cause any major air catastrophes around the world, but the frequency at which “near misses” seem to be increasing points to a problem that needs to be addressed through law and regulations changes sooner rather than later.