Cartoon Raises Questions of Drone Ethics

A recent episode of South Park, the prime-time cable cartoon, raised a lot of questions about the ethical use of personal drones. In sticking with the show’s tradition of irreverent comedy, many of the jokes were of a crude nature, but the spirit of the episode was in the right place. Members of the civilian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) community have a responsibility to use this innovative technology in a principled manner.

In today’s digital age, many people have their privacy as one of their top concerns. Once a photo or video is posted online, it is virtually impossible for it to completely disappear from existence. With that in mind, it is crucial for UAV owners to ensure that all photos and videos recorded via drone be obtained through ethical means. You certainly would not want a flying camera positioned outside of your own bedroom, and it goes without saying that you should not do that to others.

One video that went viral in the last year was the footage from inside a fireworks display in West Palm Beach, Florida. Understandably, outcry over that video caused some people to demand new laws to govern the civilian use of drones. While new laws may seem like a good idea from the outset, it often remains to be seen what the final effect a new policy will have. Hobbyist UAV use is a rapidly-growing market, and it would be unfortunate for over-reactive legislation to inhibit growth.

So what can you do as a UAV owner? First and foremost, it is your responsibility to use your drone in an ethical manner. When considering a flight plan, think about the impact that your aircraft could have on those around you. If you see online videos that were clearly obtained through less-principled means, refrain from sharing them with others. Viral videographers depend on clicks to make money, and if a venture becomes less profitable, they will likely move on to something else.

Ultimately, if draconian laws are to be avoided, it is up to civilian UAV operators to police themselves. Without a sense of discipline in the community, the task of creating rules could fall to those with no vested interest in the technology. Do not take drone ethics lightly simply because the crude kids from South Park raised the issue.

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