Drones provide new tool for environmental activists

How long will it be before authorities clamp down on citizen use of mini drones to monitor corporations and environmental miscreants?

Government, police forces, and corporations have embraced the idea of using drones for a variety of surveillance jobs, to the extent that many watchdog groups have become concerned about the effect of drones on civil rights. And yet the drones may provide an opportunity for citizens.

Last month we heard stories of how the Sea Shepherd Society was using a small  sophisticated drone to locate and monitor Japanese whalers in the southern ocean. Sea Shepherd was rebuked by the Australian government, which claimed the environmental organisation was violating the Antarctic Treaty, and must submit its drone use to and environmental assessment.

And this week there is the example of a Texas drone hobbyist who overflew a Texas meat packing plant and observed quantities of material entering a local stream drainage, leading to local environmental authorities to allege that blood and other slaughter waste was illegally leaving the plant and entering the natural watershed.

In the US  smaller drones, which are essentially model aircraft, are permitted to operate below 400 feet. Mounted with sophisticated optical equipment, they are able to provide high quality images of the ground below.

Giant companies operating in remote areas, or behind fences, have often been able to act with impunity knowing there it little likelihood their behaviour will be monitored. Cheap drones with high performance optical equipment change all this. The same qualities that threaten personal privacy also allow campaigners to monitor giant corporations more effectively.

This article from New Scientist discusses some of the civilian applications of small drones.

How long will it be before corporations pressure legislators to criminalise citizen drone surveillance of their operations?

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