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Use drones responsibly

Hodine Williams

Thursday, October 17, 2019

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For Alice Mutimiutagye, the word drone may forever be etched in her memory. It was a 25lb battery-powered drone that saved the life of this 23-year-old woman who lived in Nyange, a small, remote village west of the Rwandan capital. Having suffered a sudden haemorrhage during labour and delivery, a drone was used to deliver the much-needed supply of blood.

Unfortunately, the small rural clinic which managed her labour and delivery did not have the appropriate blood group in store. Her doctors placed an order via text message and in a matter of minutes the life-saving substance dropped from a battery-powered device called a drone. Without it, perhaps both mother and baby would have died. For this and other reasons, as we observe Cybersecurity and Awareness Month, let us discuss the utility of drone technology, as well as the importance of using them responsibly.

Alice is one of many who have benefited tremendously from this technology. In April 2019, at the University of Maryland Medical Centre, a drone roughly the size of a washing machine delivered a donor kidney to surgeons for successful transplantation in a patient with kidney failure. It was further reported that Amazon, Google, and WalMart are considering utilising drones to transport medical supplies to various countries. Drone technology stands to provide society with myriad benefits if used properly. In fact, drone technology could perhaps be the game-changer in transportation.

For the non-millennial, or not so tech-savvy, you may very well wonder what is a drone? Simply put, drones are classified as Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs); they are essentially aircraft that operate without a human pilot onboard. They are autonomous and are a part of the family of emerging artificial intelligence.

In recent years there has been an increase in the use of drones, especially for recreational purposes, as well as filming and photography. Law enforcement also employs them for intelligence-gathering purposes and even traffic monitoring. According to the United States Department of Homeland Security and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the number of commercial drones in the US airspace is estimated to grow to more than seven million in the near future. They estimate that there are around 1.25 million drones in operation.

One must be cautious however, when using a drone. A person must be cognisant of any legal responsibility or liability associated with such use. What if a drone causes damage to property or injury to a person, can civil liability arise? Do operators of drones have a responsibility and could they be liable for damage caused as a result of the negligent use of a drone? These are important considerations when using the technology. Truth be told, there are no laws in place in Jamaica which outline a liability structure concerning drones. However, in using the devices, an operator does have a duty of care in its use and to do so responsibly.

Users must also be aware of the privacy rights of others. A drone should not be positioned in such a manner as to encroach on the privacy of others. Most of these devices are equipped with high-resolution cameras with amazing digital zoom functions. Using them as a means of unauthorised surveillance could amount to a clear breach of a person's right to privacy and should not be done.

Some countries have recognised the potential issues that may arise and have enacted laws to treat with them. In July 2018, the Government in the United Kingdom passed legislation which governs the use of drones. Drone flyers are prohibited from flying these devices above 400 feet or within one kilometre of an airport boundary. Drone users are obliged by law to register and take online safety tests to improve overall accountability and minimise the careless use of the technology.

Drones are useful and can bring value to a society. However, drone flyers must be mindful of their responsibility to respect the privacy interests of others and to operate these devices responsibly to avoid harm and injury to people and property. Happy Cybersecurity and Awareness Month!

— Hodine Williams is Crown counsel in the Cybercrimes Unit of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions


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