Drones have been used for border security for years now, and a new government study says the unmanned drones will be an $89 billion industry over the next decade. But as the industry grows, so do the privacy concerns.
Experts in the field tell us the applications for drones are endless. And since lawmakers and lobbyists are trying to make Arizona the center of researching, building and testing the technology, are we prepared for the legal battles that will surely follow?
"There's a number of applications, quite notably the border patrol has used them along our border," said Douglas Thorpe, the president of Thorpe Seeop Corporation. They manufacture drones.
While we know their uses for law enforcement and defense, Thorpe said unmanned aircraft aren't just for the border anymore.
"Our biggest customers are mining companies, ships, we're involved with counter-piracy," Thorpe said.
And he said Arizona is the perfect place to test them.
"There's this terrific climate that affords year-round flying here in Arizona," he said.
But if you bring the drones here, you can bet a slew of privacy concerns will follow. Take GPS 'spoofing' or 'jamming,' for example. That's when a person up to no good can hijack a drone's GPS so it no longer knows where it is.
The government said it's a concern, but Thorpe said it's an easy fix, so long as the drone has a second navigation system.
"Those are actually quite remote," Thorpe said. "There is anecdotal evidence, but it's not really a large concern."
"The process of the testing and the process of manufacturing could mean thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment in Arizona," said state Rep. Tom Forese. He said he's trying to convince the Federal Aviation Administration to choose Arizona as a drone testing site. But he's also mindful of what comes with that.
"This concern over privacy is legitimate," Forese said.
But Forese and Thorpe said those issues will get addressed sooner rather than later and believe when it comes to drones in Arizona, the sky's the limit.
We're already seeing some proposed legislation related to unmanned aircraft; one introduced bill would make it illegal for any agency to use a drone to peep into people's homes or to gather evidence not specifically laid out in a search warrant.
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