Cloud City Drones, “Rhode Island’s first and only drone shop,” which has been open now for a few weeks, had its grand opening Saturday morning, and was met by privacy advocates from the Rhode Island Coalition to Defend Human and Civil Rights (RICDHCR) calling “for limits on both governmental and non-governmental surveillance to preserve Rhode Islanders’ quality of life.”
Randall Rose, member of RICDHCR, said in a press release that, “Although drones do have legitimate and important uses, Rhode Islanders’ quality of life will suffer if inadequately regulated drones become widespread. Except in an emergency, drones should not be allowed to collect personally identifiable or re-identifiable information on residents without their consent. Drone manufacturers and makers of drone-related software should not be allowed to use data collected by consumer and law-enforcement drones, and should not transfer that information without the consent of the private individuals involved. Drones should be safe, unarmed, and not able to do physical damage. Law enforcement should acquire drones only after a full public hearing, and should use drones only subject to a court order.”
Cloud City Drones proprietor Chris Williams focused on the safety features of the drones he carries, which makes them unfit for spying.
A private detective came in looking for a drone for his business, said Williams, and he wanted to use the drone to peer over fences. “Spying means stealth,” said Williams, “and these things are not stealthy. It’ll sound like a weed whacker in your backyard. That’s number one. Number two, there’s flashing lights blinking all over the place.” A third reason is that you get about 20 minutes of flight time on a battery charge. “It’s not a good device for spying. You’d do way better using a telefocal lens or a telescope.”
Williams thinks drones will be primarily used by hobbyists, law enforcement, search and rescue, prison security and home inspection. In reality, the ideas for drones are just beginning, and he would like to see the market develop and legislation crafted carefully so as to not impact potential sales.
“We focus on drones that have all the safety features built into them.” said Williams, “For example, if you say, Chris, I’ll give you a million dollars right now I wouldn’t be able to fly this drone this close to an airport. There are ‘no-fly zones’ built into drone’s systems. Outside the five mile limit, drones can fly higher. As soon as a new no fly zone comes out, it’s instantly updated. So when Washington DC said no drone flying around the White house, that update was instant. Nobody can fly over it.”
Cloud City Drones is on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick, not far from the airport.
Randall Rose was clear that the RICDHCR action was not, “primarily aimed at criticizing this particular store, which has already drawn some controversy. Instead, the purpose of the event is to draw attention to the failure of Rhode Island’s policymakers to pass much-needed legislation that will adequately regulate drones and other forms of surveillance. Privacy advocates are well aware of the likelihood that some of the drones on the market will be used in harmful ways.”
So far, despite some interest on the part of the RI General Assembly, there has been no legislative action taken on limiting the use of drones or addressing privacy concerns.