Social Implications of Drones – Sandbrook

Attending the key note speaker on GIS day reminded me that most of the commercial and government sectors perceive GIS as a tool. When Marina asked the keynote speaker about the ethical implications of remote sensing, it appeared to me that the question deviated from the topics from the presented lecture. Issues of privacy, data security, and the social risks of conservation GIS were not discussed in the body of the GIS/remote sensing presentation. GIS was mostly portrayed to the audience as a means for industry growth, environmental regulation, and increased government transparency. However, when we think of drones as a science rather than a tool, we begin to understand how the technology embodies concepts and systematic problems embedded in its fabrication and historical background.

It is incredible for me to think that fixed wing drones can operate thousands of miles away from its pilots. This notion of distance and perceived separation from the consequences of our actions has implications for how we behave ethically. This types of far reaching surveillance reminds me of the discussion of Foucault’s Panoptican referenced in Kwan’s (2002) article about feminist GIS. Drones make us aware that we can be observed even though we are unable to see the observer. As a result, applications of drones have the capacity to make regulation of those being watched a passive act. Therefore, the nature of drones are linked to methods applied by uneven power hierarchies and wide spread control. It is concerning that regulations applied to drone usage are mainly within the jurisdiction of the government and military. This means that legal systems that are not kept in check by civil society will mimic the interests of those in power. For instance, the article states that drones can be applied to catch illegal hunting of wildlife. But if the government decides to transform land that is tied to the livelihoods of indigenous communities into conservation areas, then drones become complicit in the marginalization of indigenous groups that defend their land. Again, these social implications of GIS are very relevant to our discussion last week about the capacity of maps and GIS to do evil.


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