The Paparazzi Want Drones


In a stark reminder for what drones could mean for privacy in the future, paparazzi giant TMZ is one of a myriad of corporate, media and government entities petitioning the government for permission to use surveillance drones.

And we’re not just talking about the massive, missile-firing drones like the ones the military uses. More modern drones are as small as birds, and can fly for miles and hover outside of windows.

WASHINGTON — The federal government is rushing to open America’s skies to tens of thousands of drones — pushed to do so by a law championed by manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft.

Yet questions remain about their potential to invade privacy and about their reliability, as two incidents on the U.S.-Mexico border demonstrate.

The drone makers have sought congressional help to speed their entry into a domestic market valued in billions of dollars.

The 60-member House of Representatives’ “drone caucus” — including the co-chairman, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo — has helped push that agenda. Over the past four years, caucus members have drawn nearly $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions, an investigation by Hearst Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics shows.

The Federal Aviation Administration has been flooded with applications from police departments, universities, private corporations and even the celebrity gossip site TMZ, all seeking to use drones that range from devices the size of a hummingbird to full-sized aircraft like those used by the U.S. military to target al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan and elsewhere.

What’s interesting about this privacy debate is that it’s not really so much about a change in policy as it’s about a change in technology. Drones, even just a few years ago, were seen as futuristic. The thought of them being used by local law enforcement, or media outlets, seemed far-fetched at one time.

Now, not so much.

The same thing has happened with the internet. Thanks to the huge amount of data online, and our ability to search it quickly and effectively, things that were always public information from court records to the view of your home from a public street are now more accessible than ever. It creeps people out.

Nothing has changed, mind you. Those court records were always public. It was never illegal for someone to look at and photograph your home from the street. But now that it’s on the internet in front of an audience of, potentially, hundreds of millions people are starting to feel differently.

It could very well be that a lot of the privacy and anonymity we once enjoyed are things of the past.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • SigFan

    If this starts to occur a lot – and I believe it will – look for a rash of stories like the one about the hunter that blasted a DNR drone out of the sky. Big Brother and all his siblings are watching.

  • Thresherman

    I can see a set of quad AR-15s set up as an anti-aircraft battery. This might actually hold tha promise of some fun!

    • SigFan

      On a rotating turret on the back of a Polaris ATV – the possibilities do look good.

      • borborygmi

        if they are getting close to the house I would think just your standard 12 ga. with some buck shot would do the trick.

        • tony_o2

          If it was a small drone, I’d use high-velocity paint balls to force a crash landing. Maybe even some mortar-fired nets to bring down the big ones. Gotta salvage the spoils on Ebay to finance the defense system….

          • JW -American

            Would bb size paint ball pellets loaded into a 10 ga shell be enough to perhaps ruin the day of a low flying drone operator? Maybe you could pack the same paint ball pellets into a 2″ fireworks motar tubes, then just hit the switch and launch 8-10 tubes at a time,

            Say, that could be a new entrepreneurial industry for the serving the rich & famous! A daytime fireworks display for fancy weddings and other gala’s. Wait till the drones show up on your short range radar set-up and then tell the band to strike up some John Phillips – Suza and start the fireworks show!

            How high do those drones fly, maybe start a “Balloon Service” for those fabulous bashes, rather then little balloons inside the party tent, put 30 -40 large, sky or cloud colored, ones 500-> 1000 feet up anchored with very heavy fish line. I would think a drone hitting one of those lines and potentially falling onto a crowd of party goers, (possibly an attorney or 2 in the crowd) might discourage at least overhead flights.

  • Red47

    What a great idea! Now all the pols and celebs can be watched even more…like insects. How much worse can the paparazzi get?

    • Onslaught1066

      I suppose they could chase some celeb up and down the street until they die in a fiery crash or something.

      • Red47

        No one would DO such a thing…oh

    • borborygmi

      Since the papparzzi have a market for their goods how much lower can the public get..

      • Red47

        Well done!

      • Onslaught1066

        liberal democrat?

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    I’m always fearful of government invasion of my privacy, but this is a good reminder that businesses can also invade my privacy. I see an advertisement on this very page for MoodleRooms. Apparently the company knows that I use Moodle in my classroom and there is something on my computer to tell them it’s me.

    Very scary!

  • borborygmi

    we will have papparrazzi drones watching gov’t drones watching papparazzi drones and on and on and on . Sort of like people photographing the cops misbehaving. I think I will sunbath in the nude that should teach them a lesson and break a camera

  • WOOF

    The difference between piloting an airplane and a drone?

    When airplane crashes you die, a drone maybe kills some one else.
    Flying lawn mowers.

  • VocalYokel

    “The Paparazzi Want Drones”

    Sounds like an episode from ‘Star Trek’

  • mikemc1970

    Why not? The Democratic party is full of drones. If they have them, why can’t everyone else?