Google’s Schmidt Voices Privacy Fears Over Civilian Drones

Eric Schmidt

Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt says drones operated by members of the public pose a privacy and security risk

The chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, has warned about the possible privacy and security risks posed by the increasing use of drone technology by ordinary civilians.

Drones or unmanned aircraft are widely used by various military forces around the world, but nowadays it is easy for the man in the street to obtain cheap miniature versions, which could be used for potential privacy invasions.

Privacy Infringements

Eric Schmidt believes that now is the time for privately owned drones to come under governmental control, or be subject to some form of regulation.

Reaper Drone“How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their backyard,” Schmidt said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper at the weekend. “It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?”

The comments by Schmidt will no doubt raise some eyebrows considering Google’s track record on privacy issues over the last few years. It  faced years of investigations and lawsuits when its Street View cars gathered private data over Wi-Fi, on top of the vast amounts of information-gathered by Google’s normal operations.

But it seems that Schmidt is also worried that cheap drone technology might potentially start to be used by terrorists.

“I’m not going to pass judgement on whether armies should exist, but I would prefer to not spread and democratise the ability to fight war to every single human being,” he said. “It’s got to be regulated… It’s one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they’re doing, but have other people doing it… it’s not going to happen.”

Yet even for governments, the use of drones can be controversial, as witnessed by the numerous strikes targetting militants and terrorists in Northern Pakistan by the US military.

And in late 2011, an Iranian engineer claimed that he was able to capture a US drone spy aircraft when he hacked into the RQ-170 Sentinel’s navigational system. At the time, the US official described the Iranian version of the story as “ludicrous”, adding that “neither weaponry nor technology brought down the spy drone.

Social Commentator

Schmidt has become increasingly outspoken in recent years. Ht has criticised the British government’s plans to block access to illegal file-sharing websites, claiming this could impinge on people’s right to free speech. He has also criticised the education system in Britain for failing to ignite young people’s passion for science, engineering and maths.

And he has previously had strong words to say about China, in a book called The New Digital Age. Along with his co-writer, head of Google Ideas Jared Cohen, Schmidt said China was “the world’s most active and enthusiastic filterer of information” and “the most sophisticated and prolific” hacker of foreign companies.

Eric Schmidt in North Korea

Most recently, Schmidt controversially visited North Korea in January, urging its leadership to open up more to the Internet.

North Korea is thought to be one of the least connected countries in the world, with the vast majority of the population not owning a computer. Even if North Korean citizens are able to get online, it is understood that they are only capable of accessing an internal North Korean intranet, and not the global Internet. His visit (before the current ratcheting up of nuclear tensions in that region) did yeild one result: it allowed Google to publish a more detailed map of North Korea, filling in one of the gaps in Google Maps.

Schmidt is also understood to have travelled to other world hotspots including Chad, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.

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