How does the gaze of a drone feel to you?

We found the talk of Surveillance Capitalism by Armin Beverungen quite interesting. Drones are an increasing part of surveillance activity around us, especially in the times of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Traveling

The idea of using drones as an object to enable travel virtually is quite an exciting and positive aspect of the technology. With large scale adoption of 5G technologies increasing, it is becoming easier to stream large amounts of video data to multiple devices. Drones allow people who are forced to stay indoors, due to COVID 19, to experience the outdoors and enjoy their favorite destinations. By offering a birds-eye view, the drone provides a complete picture of any location. Individuals are also more empowered as they are able to view the entire setting from above. This extensive viewing experience may not be possible in reality due to limited time, hard to access areas and other logistical difficulties.

And it is even interesting in terms of surveillance and resistance. The aspect of the drone being possible to be above us watching us, without us recognizing is very interesting and crucial. 


Trying to get the gaze of a drone

After the session yesterday we thought it might be very interesting to get the gaze of a drone. According to this I went on the roof of a building to imagine how it would feel and how the gaze of a drone has an impact on my experience of the outside. When I stood there it was very difficult for me to get the right angle. To have a bird eye perspective without laying on the floor looking above the floor.

This was one of the pictures I took. In this picture it is getting very clear that even the height is not getting close to the perspective of a drone. Sitting there I had the feeling all of the people and cars and stuff were looking so small to me as if it wasn’t the ‘real world’. That is something we also reflected on, how the world might look for the people controlling the drone. They might experience the world not as a place full of real people more like a game they enter. This is in terms of surveillance even more interesting because the people controlling the drone might just mask out the personal and social relation to the world watching.

Another aspect we looked at are several ways of resistance. For instance if somebody is watched by cameras in a building like a bank for example, we are able to mask our face or hide the PIN with our hands. But the drones in this case are way more difficult to resist. Like me being on the roof for example none of the people even noticed that I kinda ‘spied’ on them. So with a drone around, which can be in such a height that the individual is not able to recognize it, it is even harder in terms of resistance. 


Surveillance in architecture and public space

In the research of gaze, the aspect of surveillance in architecture is an interesting one to explore. For instance high-rise buildings become potential for surveillance in the public space. Living or visiting such a building gives the spectator a power to observe and gaze at people in the street or in the buildings across the street. In contrast to the usage of a drone, people in the street can hardly notice if they are being watched because there is no technology involving sound which would suggest that there is something unexpected happening around them. In such a case, when we don’t know we are being watched, we cannot resist it in any way.

Another perspective on the architecture can be from the other point of view, that is people from the street have the possibility to gaze at people inside buildings. This activity is likely to happen in areas where buildings have extraordinarily big windows, which particularly applies to Denmark. The motivation behind moving into a house with big windows can be having a sufficient intake of light, but its unintended consequences can be the human or drones’ gazes if they come close enough. However, in situations like this, the habitant of such a house can resist by putting down sunblinds.


Resistance to Drone and Surveillance Technology Through Policy-Making

There is a debate going on regarding the type of data that drones collect, the methods used for processing this and the procedures for informed consent that are followed. However, it is argued that drones and surveillance technology in general during corona crisis as an emergency context could pave the way for individual identification, affect people’s right to anonymity and even help foster discrimination and stigmatisation. In this public health emergency situation of covid-19, surveillance and drone technology might be justified to contain the disease while public authorities might grant loosen restrictions to allow more operations and shorten the relevant notification procedures.

We found a very interesting paragraph regarding anticipatory policy-making in a report from the European Parliament:

“Although there are provisions in both Article 6 and Article 9 of the General Data Protection Regulation that allow for the collection, use and necessary sharing of personal data for ‘reasons of public interest in the area of public health, such as protecting against serious cross-border threats to health’, any widespread use of drones for large-scale data collection must abide by the principles set out in a recent statement of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) on the processing of personal data in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak. The Board advised public authorities against ‘systematic and generalised’ monitoring and collection of data related to health and recommending they first seek to process location data in an anonymous way. According to the ePrivacy Directive, when it comes to the processing of telecom data, such as location-tracking data collected by drones, location data can only be used by the operator when made anonymous or with the consent of individuals. Recently, the chair of the EDPB clarified that safeguarding public health may fall under the national and/or public security exception of Article 15 of the Directive, which enables the Member States to introduce legislative measures pursuing national security and public security. Although many of the exceptional measures controlling the use of drones are based on extraordinary powers, only to be used temporarily in emergencies,specific safeguards need to be introduced so that full protections are afforded to personal data once the state of emergency is lifted.”


EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service

Emotions and reactions to drones

The points below list positive and negative aspects of drones flying too close to people.

  • People wanted to make sure that the technology was being well regulated. So the drones regulation is a sort of resistance form for the people.
  • A drone that flies by sufficiently far away and has a clear and legitimate purpose does not cause people to interrupt their activities, and is not seen as problematic.(positive aspect)
  • low-flying drones often interrupt social activities, and that current designs and regulations make it difficult to assess purpose and legitimacy, causing uncertainty and disturbance.(negative aspect)
  • Problems of spatial privacy become particularly acute when large drones overfly private gardens or houses at lower altitudes.