Wings Magazine

Features Operations
Glide Path: Beware the eyes in the sky

The rise of the drones. It sounds sinister, in the same way as “bad moon rising” or “It was a dark and stormy night.”

March 3, 2014  By Paul Dixon

The rise of the drones. It sounds sinister, in the same way as “bad moon rising” or “It was a dark and stormy night.” The media is fixated on drones. The word, that is. It is used to describe anything and everything flies above the surface of the earth without a human being on board. Drone, drone, drone and more drones. There’s little perspective on the concepts involved or even trying to stay within a nine-iron shot of reality.

 There’s a long way to go in refining the technology and then matching the technology with the need.


The general public has watched Predators and Grim Reapers on the evening news for the past decade and then Jeff Bezos of Amazon turned the world on its ear in late 2013 by introducing the Amazon Prime Air Project to viewers of 60 Minutes. Remember this one? Bezos suggested Amazon had the ability to deliver your order from Amazon to your home in 30 minutes (or less) for urban customers using UAV technology.

Well, we are a long way from the day when our skies will be darkened by clouds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), large or small, in the service of humanity. The sky may well be the limit, but there’s a long way to go in refining the technology and then matching the technology with the need. The regulations that govern the use (s) of UAVs have to be realistic in the operational sense as well as minimize the impact on the broad universe of aviation in general. And while there is significant progress on both the industry and regulatory fronts in this country, I find it interesting that from the public perspective the most publicly stated concern regards “privacy,” or to be more accurate, the potential for infringement of our individual privacy.


I’ve seen comments from provincial and federal privacy watchdogs, as well as various citizen groups voicing concern about the possibility of police or “the government” to use “drones” for aerial surveillance of citizens. Of course it’s possible, given that our neighbours to the south are currently using Predators along their northern and southern borders. But there is a big difference between using aerial surveillance, manned or unmanned, to scan an area looking for anyone that may trespass in some way and the idea that you or I are being specifically targeted by the authorities (or anyone else for that matter) as we walk down the street. There seems to be a fixation with the idea that someone may be seeing us, looking at us or as many cultures viewed photography on first blush stealing our souls.

We’ve willingly allowed ourselves to be tracked by a pack of electronic wolves that is rapidly expanding as it feasts on the minutia of our lives. But ask yourself this: Do you have any secrets from your credit card company? When was the last time you did your banking with a real, live person? How about loyalty cards for oil companies, groceries, drug stores or travel points? The fact is, everywhere you go, you leave a little bit of yourself behind.

Now, we’re about to take a quantum leap forward as Google and others take that cached information on your past behaviour and use it to shape your future experience. When you query anything on the Internet, more and more, the responses you get are being tailored behind the scenes specifically for you based on your online history. Not to mention the paid links that appear on your screen, which is very much focused on you – where you’ve been and where you’re likely to be headed online.

For your next vacation, you may book the flight and hotel online, perhaps even using your personal electronic device. Your boarding pass is a series of squiggles on your PED and you’ve loaded your own inflight entertainment on your electronic device, or if need be, you’ll simply stream whatever the airline has to offer. Suddenly, haunted by the thought you may not have turned off the stove as your plane lifts off, you’ll be able to take care of yourself because your house is wired for everything and you control it all from that same PED. You can even answer the front door from 10,000 miles away and check out your visitors by video before sending them on their way. As you’re winging your way home, you can check your fridge and work up a shopping list for breakfast. Don’t be surprised if the voice of Hal from 2001 suggests you might want to make some healthier choices.

How important to me is it that my grocery list and every other possible smidgeon of information about my so-called life will live forever in the clouds in the not too distant future? Compare that with the thought that someone, either the 12-year-old living down the street or “the government” might take my picture when I’m not looking. If you want to take my picture, help yourself, but when it comes to your knowing whether it’s butter or margarine in my fridge, I’ve got to draw the line. 

Paul Dixon is freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


Stories continue below