The Gallery: The 500ft View

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This month, a teenaged-drone enthusiast in the forests of Clinton, Connecticut fastened a handgun to a quadrotor, remotely triggering gunfire as the drone hovered. The resulting video was posted to YouTube where it’s collected over 3 million views, fanning the flames of panic about the tools available to the legal system for addressing this new technological terror. Do we have adequate legal standing to prosecute and deter what is demonstrably a clear and present danger?

In the 1983 movie WarGames, a fictional teenager hacks into a U.S. government defense system. The movie fanned the flames of panic among real-life legislators as to the tools available to the legal system for addressing this new technological terror. Did we have adequate legal standing to prosecute and deter what was demonstrably a clear and present danger? The conclusion was no, and thus was born 1986’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or CFAA, meant to be a righteous weapon against these mythical hackers.

But the CFAA was enacted in an era when only “computer people” used computers, and the notion that an everyday citizen might find themselves within its sights was inconceivable. Thirty years later, as computers permeate every corner of our lives and the definition has blurred beyond recognition, the technological myopia and fearful haste of the 1980s has left us with a law so broadly worded that violating the terms of service of a social network constitutes reasonable application of the CFAA in some prosecutors’ eyes.

The EFF, and others, continue to fight for much needed reform.

As regards the individual in Clinton:

“We are attempting to determine if any laws have been violated at this point. It would seem to the average person, there should be something prohibiting a person from attaching a weapon to a drone. At this point, we can’t find anything that’s been violated […] The legislature in Connecticut (recently) addressed a number of questions with drones, mostly around how law enforcement was going to use drones. It is a gray area, and it’s caught the legislature flatfooted.“ – Clinton Police Chief Todd Lawrie

Videos of teens discharging firearms are regular online fare, and while the incident immediately begs questions about gun control, it’s the addition of a drone that sparks the public’s imagination.

Clinton Connecticut isn’t the only place mulling its newfound legal vacuum: meanwhile in California, San Bernardio County supervisors approved $75,000 in bounties to be rewarded for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of drone operators whose flights above wildfires there allegedly prevented firefighting aircraft from delivering water to fight the blazes. Under what laws will these drone operators be convicted?

The time is now to advocate for clear and reasonable legislation around drone use, legislation that enables a safe and promising future for a rapidly advancing technology. Let us not end up with another CFAA.

The following post was from The Buzzer assembled by Star SimpsonGreg Leppert. You can find them @thebuzzerco on Twitter.

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