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The Dual-use of Drones*
Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
Drones and drone-related technologies were initially developed for military purpo‐
ses. Their adaptability as universal platforms for sensing and payload transporta‐
tion has driven their increasing proliferation in the civilian domain. This paper
investigates the ethical aspects of dual-use of drones and drone-related technolo‐
gies. These aspects encompass issues generated by the transfer of drones and
drone-related technologies from the military domain into the civil domain, and
issues stemming from the inherent nature of drones and drone-related technolo‐
gies. Key themes, such as safety, security, and privacy will be explored, along with
existing and potential solutions proposed for addressing ethical issues related to
the dual-use of drones and drone-related technologies within the civil domain. This
paper forms part of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)
project ‘Responsible Design of Drones and Drone Services: Towards an Ethical and
Juridical Tool For Drone Design and Risk Assessment’ (Project no. 313-99-318),
which aims to develop a tool for use in Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI) for
the Value Sensitive Design and implementation of drones and drone technologies.
Understanding the ethical challenges and proposed solutions regarding dual-use
should better inform the RRI, VSD and implementation of drones and drone tech‐
1 Introduction
In 2016, after more than 2 years of planning, the construction of a 1900 km long
oil pipeline began, known as the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline was
designed to cross four US states: Illinois, Iowa, South and North Dakota, connect‐
ing under the ground the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota with oil tank
farms in Illinois. The rationale behind the building of the pipeline was safety,
compared with road and rail transport to the rafineries. The local population
(mostly native American tribe members and their supporters) repeatedly
expressed their opposition and filed petitions, without result. Most of the pipe‐
line was built, but the part in the vicinity of Standing Rock, near burial and sacred
sites of the Sioux Tribe still awaited federal approval. Members of the tribe and
their supporters set up camps where they protested against the construction
company and their security personnel (‘Dakota Pipeline: What’s Behind the Con‐
troversy?’, 2017).
*De eerste auteur van dit artikel is Engelstalig. De redactie heeft gemeend dat het onderwerp goed
past in het aangeboden palet van dit themanummer en om die reden geaccepteerd dat het in het
Engels is aangeboden. Een Nederlandstalige samenvatting vindt u op pagina 96.
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Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
During the protests both parties, the protesting tribe members with supporters
as well as private security companies and the police used drones for monitoring
and surveillance activities above the protest site. Tribe members used drones to
collect aerial footages of the protests at Standing Rock, gaining wider support
from the public through social media coverage. On the other side, private security
officials were gathering surveillance evidence, which were later used as evidence
in court cases. The FAA, between October and November 2016, imposed a tempo‐
rary flight restriction above the 400 km2 land of the resistance groups, which ban
has been renewed twice (Brown, Parrish & Speri, 2017).
Although the use of drones in military actions increased significantly after the
9/11 attacks, and is coined as a signature weapon of modern warfare, having been
used actively in the War in Afghanistan and Iraq War, the Dakota Pipeline pro‐
tests has a special significance. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests were the first
well-documented case when drones were used to collect surveillance evidence
against protesters, a minority group, in a non-military setting against a country’s
own population, by both public and private law enforcement agencies at the same
Emerging technologies often carry the risk of abuse by groups and individuals
through negligence or malevolent intentions. Drone technologies, as a novel,
emerging technology of the 21st century, are not an exception in this regard. Orig‐
inating from both military development and civilian initiatives, drones are prone
for to dual-use. The issue of dual-use is even more pressing due to the fact that at
present, the technology is used by more than 90 nations world-wide (Finn &
Wright, 2012; West & Bowman, 2016).
This article overviews a few of the dual-use possibilities of drones, with the moti‐
vation of highlighting the ethical nature of the dual-use dilemmas through some
cases, and providing some practical recommendations for minimising them.
2 Ethics of Dual-use
The ethics of dual-use gained substantial importance after the development and
application of military nuclear missiles at the end of World War II (Jogalekar,
2014). Leo Szilard, one of the conceivers of the idea of the nuclear chain reaction,
drafted an essay about his imaginary trial as a war criminal, highlighting the ques‐
tions about the ethical responsibility of scientists (Szilard, 1949). Although there
is no agreed definition of dual-use, it’s traditional definition is linked with
research, technology, and artefacts that can be both applied to military and civil‐
ian contexts (Barazzetti, Diezi & Benaroyo, 2015). More recent definitions of
dual-use describe it as occurring when a technology that is intended for applica‐
tion with primary good intentions (benevolent purpose) also has an secondary
purpose that is negative (malevolent), which is unintended by its developers (Bar‐
azzetti, Diezi & Benaroyo, 2015, referring to Rath, Ischi & Perkins, 2014). Conse‐
quently, Barazzetti, Diezi & Benaroyo (2015, 6) define dual-use as follows:
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‘A research, technology, or artefact is dual-use if there is a concrete threat or
a sufficiently high risk that it can be used to serve malevolent purposes (e.g.
design or produce a weapon, endanger human health, compromise security,
threaten fundamental human rights, etc.), where in neither case this is the
intended or primary purpose.’
In science, dual-use dilemmas emerge when a particular research, technology, or
artefact that has been created for good intentions can be potentially applied to
cause harm. In detail, the dual-use dilemma in research represents the choice
between causing intentional good on one hand, and predicting the possibility and
consequences of providing means for causing harm on the other hand (Miller &
Selgelid, 2008). Any ethical assessment does not include only the researchers
themselves, but also extend to the oversight bodies. Moreover, an ethical assess‐
ment has to be conducted on a case-by-case basis, which is influenced by the value
system surrounding the research, technology, and artefacts. Barazzetti, Diezi and
Benaroyo (2015) define four general ethical principles that is applicable to dual-
use dilemmas. These are (Barazzetti, Diezi & Benaroyo, 2015, 8-11):
Social responsibility of the researchers – An emerging view in research ethics
holds researchers socially responsible for the malevolent use of their well-
intended research; while at the same time researchers have a duty to consider
and foresee the actual and potential applications of their work.
‘No means to harm’ principle – Incorporating the social responsibility principle,
the ‘no means to harm’ principle considers potentially harmful research, tech‐
nology, or artefacts as morally wrong, if a concrete threat or sufficiently high
risk arises in relation to them; therefore, this principle relies on the judge‐
ment, assessment, and awareness of these risks of prospective harms.
Scientific freedom – Being a key moral value, scientific freedom is grounded on
the principle of freedom of intellectual enquiry as a fundamental human
right. However, scientific freedom cannot be understood as an absolute free‐
dom, as limitations to this principle may be justified by the overwhelming
risks and harms that would outweigh the benefits of the dissemination of a
particular knowledge.
Collective responsibility for dual-use – The responsibility for the research, tech‐
nology, or artefacts cannot be carried by the individual scientist alone, relying
exclusively on one’s self-governance. The responsibility is a collective effort
on multiple levels, and it is a joint enterprise of universities, professional
associations, governments, and funders.
A particular issue arises regarding collaborations on military research. According
to Forge (2012, 2013), researchers should not engage in military research that
has solely malevolent purposes (e.g. perfecting lethal weapons). Barazzetti, Diezi,
and Benaroyo (2015) extends this criterion also to military research that has inci‐
dental friendly civilian applications, as the primary intended goal of such research
is to develop lethal weapons with malevolent purposes. The ethical assessment of
the dual-use principle in military research with the intention of designing solely
defensive weapons is comparatively more complex regarding their expected bene‐
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Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
fits and potential risks. An even more complex situation emerges regarding mili‐
tary-civilian joint research that develops technologies integrating both military
and commercial applications at the same time. Such research collaborations have
been promoted in the recent years.
The hybrid, military-commercial collaboration is especially prevalent in European
countries, where the lack of accountability and oversight is hidden behind the veil
of technocratic processes called roadmaps. These roadmaps are designed by EU
officials, industry specialists and consultants, without the essential comments of
the wider civil society, national parliaments, or the European Parliament (Cserna‐
toni, 2016; Hayes, Jones & Töpfer, 2014). The lack of transparency and public
accountability, as well as the objectives of such drone operations (e.g. surveil‐
lance, counter-terrorism, policing, border control) may be the source of further
controversies. As a hallmark case of negative consequences stemming from lack
of accountability and transparency can serve a recent controversy of Google
employees, who were not informed about the purpose of the machine-learning
software they were developing, which were used in military settings for analysing
millions of hours of drone footage in order to identify future objects of interest.
Media coverage reports at least dozen of Google employees left the company
because of their disagreement with the non-transparent application of their soft‐
ware for such purposes (Amadeo, 2018). Although such an action is in accordance
with the social responsibility and ‘no means to harm’ principle of dual-use regard‐
ing drones, it does not address on the systemic level the issues related with scien‐
tific freedom nor collective responsibility for dual-use on the level of companies,
the military, or the state. In military-commercial collaborations, all responsible
actors (i.e. not only individuals) should consider dual-use applications of the
developed technology (Barazzetti, Diezi & Benaroyo, 2015). This consideration
regarding military research, according to Barazzetti, Diezi, and Benaroyo (2015),
should be also extended to members of civil society.
From this overview, it is evident that drones and drone-related technologies can
be categorised into the dual-use definition that differentiates between the tradi‐
tional military-civilian domains, as well as the definition that focuses on inten‐
tional beneficent and malevolent use. In the next sections, we shall highlight
these dual-use issues in greater detail.
3 Characterisation of Drone Applications
Research conducted with drones extends to its operational use by governments,
defense companies, and research institutions, while the Research & Development
of drone-related systems is performed by universities and the public sector
(Clarke, 2014a). The view that the application of drones is limited by one’s imagi‐
nation, due to its capabilities, is repeatedly noted in the literature (Finn &
Wright, 2012; Pajares, 2015).
Currently, the most extensive application of drones occurs in military realms.
However, non-military governmental, commercial, industrial, scientific, and
other domains are following quickly. In the sections below, we focus our attention
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The Dual-use of Drones
on two particular domains: military and non-military governmental application of
drones. This focus intends to highlight the context of substantial dual-use dilem‐
mas. This description is then followed with the overview of the current legal and
regulatory context linked with drone technologies and drone use.
3.1 Military Use
The military application of drones has received considerable attention in the
media and in scholarly debate due to the capabilities of remote killing (also refer‐
red to as ‘precision killing’) and the public outcry this causes (Bendel, 2016).
While, initially, drones have been used for covert observation, reconnaissance,
and espionage (Braun, Friedewald & Valkenburg, 2015; Lidynia, Philipsen & Zie‐
fle, 2017), the use has changed from surveillance to lethal missions against terro‐
rists, first conducted in Pakistan around 2007 (Luppicini & So, 2016). Public con‐
cerns triggered ethical debate about the collateral damage caused by these actions
(the ratio of civilian to terrorist casualties being 50:1 (Luppicini & So, 2016 refer‐
ring to Lewis, 2014). There has also been a shift in the interpretation of military
ethics and legality regarding the practice of killing with drones (Luppicini & So,
2016; Rao, Gopi & Maione, 2016). Moreover, the lack of transparency in the deci‐
sion-making process regarding ‘nonjudicial executions’ of targets has also raised
concerns (Culver, 2014; Rao, Gopi & Maione, 2016).
Besides the unintended consequences, what is at stake in these military actions is
the possible impact on civil and non-military applications. With the distance
between the operators and drones, the notion of ‘military necessity to intervene’
alters, as the meaning of the word ‘battlefield’ may be extended to any location on
Earth (Culver, 2014). Similarly, any drone-like intervention may involve the
highly problematic notion of ‘collateral damage,’ i.e. non-military damages and
deaths, not intended but necessary, to achieve military goals (Wilson, 2014).
Thus, drones may reinforce the culture of control and risk management currently
present in non-military domains (Bracken-Roche, 2016, referring to Wall & Mon‐
ahan, 2011).
For example, Israeli Defense Forces tested drones that drop tear gas on protesters
in Gaza in 2018. Three types of drones were reportedly used, from which at least
one has its origins in a commercial product. The use of these drones give the mili‐
tary forces new range, despite the fact that drones working on a similar principle
(i.e. to deliver explosives) were used by terrorist groups earlier in other parts of
the Middle East (Hilton, 2018; Schmitt, 2017).
It has been reported that commercial drones (available to the general public) are
being used to observe or draw fire in the War in Donbass (2014–present; Hart‐
mann & Giles, 2016). This would be the first documented case of drone-on-drone
warfare (Hartmann & Giles, 2016). This fact confirms the ethical issue of possible
dual-use of these technologies, namely, when war-like activities are conducted
from great distance and remotely (Boucher, 2015).
3.2 Non-military Governmental Use
While military drones carry an acronym of M-RPAS, their repurposed variants for
domestic use are often abbreviated as C-RPAS (Boucher, 2015). States recognise
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Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
the opportunity offered by drones in crime-fighting, disaster-relief, immigration
control, environmental monitoring and scientific research (West & Bowman,
2016). Drones are considered useful for performing dull, dirty, and dangerous1
work (Braun, Friedewald & Valkenburg, 2015; Boucher, 2015; Clarke, 2014a; Finn
& Wright, 2012; Pauner, Kamara & Viguri, 2015; West & Bowman, 2016).
Drones have been reportedly used for policing, law enforcement, and person-
tracking activities since 2006. In the Netherlands, drones assisted in the eviction
of people from squats, and were used against cannabis cultivators. Drones were
also used against cannabis cultivators in Switzerland. In Canada, photographs of a
homicide scene captured by a drone were later admitted in court. In Belgium,
France, and Italy, drones monitored undocumented workers, migrants, and dem‐
onstrators. In the UK, the first arrest made with the assistance of a drone has
taken place in Merseyside (Finn & Wright, 2012).
Drones offer an effective and quick platform for the police in the reconnaissance
of emergency scenes, and are often compared with mobile, remotely-managed
CCTV cameras (Clarke, 2014a). Concerns are raised, however, by the potential
increased likelihood of law enforcement organisations using drones, which were
originally designed for military purposes, in civilian domains. The surveillance
capabilities also pose a threat to the emergence of ‘Panoptic Aloft,’ where no vio‐
lation of rules is ever omitted, with vengeance permeating every level of society
(Clarke, 2014a). Additionally, the power of drones questions the legal criteria of
expectable privacy, reasonable search by the police, as well as warrant require‐
ments. Certain attempts at crowd control, during demonstrations, by police were
considered controversial (Culver, 2014).
Law enforcement activities may extend also to border patrolling. Drones are cap‐
able of becoming an integral part of nation states’ border-protection (Luppicini &
So, 2016, referring to Pozzi, 2014), including land border, coastguard and sea
patrol (Braun, Friedewald & Valkenburg, 2015; Hartmann & Giles, 2016; Pajares,
2015). They are already actively used for surveillance on the US-Mexican and US-
Canadian borders. Systems deployed, in case of triggered seismic sensors, are
capable of locating and, with a laser illuminator, tagging drug smugglers with
great success (Finn & Wright, 2012).
Unfortunately, people crossing the border may be subject to the same surveillance
measures that are used on criminals (Luppicini & So, 2016, referring to Pozzi,
2014). Such narratives may be especially dangerous in relation with basic human
rights, such as migration, which may be endangered by the otherwise legally justi‐
fiable requirement to protect a nation state’s borders from a military point of
view. Drones are especially well-equipped to perform monitoring and, if need be,
non-lethal interventions against any transgressors of a nation state’s border
(Cohn, 2015).
1Dull is defined by Braun, Friedewald, and Valkenburg (2015) as long-endurance missions requir‐
ing long flight times. Dull missions carry the risk of exposure to nuclear, biological, and/or chem‐
ical agents for the operator. In military terminology, dangerous missions carry the risk of human
exposure to (counter-)air defences (Braun, Friedewald & Valkenburg 2015).
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Drones can significantly empower responsible citizens and vigilantes in their
efforts to impose their own morality on others. The appearance of drones may
have a negative impact on strangers, minorities, newly-settled refugees, or former
criminals in areas with Neighbourhood Watch practices. Voyeurism has been
documented by CCTV operators, a behaviour that may be exacerbated with the
use of drones. In less extreme situations, drones may also be used for nagging
(Clarke, 2014a).
The motives behind the use of drones for security purposes are their value for
money, high performance and efficiency, and ability to perform actions in danger‐
ous or uncertain situations (Boucher 2015). It is also common practice for the
police to use emerging technologies in secret until the legislation explicitly pro‐
hibits the particular use (West & Bowman, 2016, referring to Crump, 2013).
3.3 Legislation and Regulation
As it is unlikely that the use of private drones will be abolished, their use poses
significant challenges to the concepts of data protection, information autonomy,
and safety (Bendel, 2016; Bracken-Roche, 2016). At the same time, this tempo‐
rary lacuna legis in relation to smaller drones has been recognised as an opportu‐
nity, due to the omission of safety requirements imposed on them (Clarke,
2014a). Moreover, the flying of drones illegally is on the rise (Luppicini & So,
Particular difficulties have been encountered in the development of overarching
legislation and regulation of civil and domestic drones, due to its political implica‐
tions (e.g. freedom of expression, open justice, public safety), as well as the need
to update certain definitions (e.g. privacy) stemming from their insufficiency to
capture the characteristics of drone technologies (Clarke, 2014b; Finn & Wright,
2012; Luppicini & So, 2016; Pauner, Kamara & Viguri, 2015; Rao, Gopi & Maione,
2016). It can be stated, that various regulations are in place in the US (Finn &
Wright, 2012; Luppicini & So, 2016; Rule, 2015; Sandbrook, 2015; Volovelsky,
2014) and particularly by the FAA (FAA, 2015b; FAA, 2015a; Coopmans, 2014;
Culver, 2014; Finn & Wright, 2016; Freeman & Freeland, 2016; Hartmann &
Giles, 2016; Luppicini & So, 2016; Mohammed et al., 2014; Rao, Gopi & Maione,
2016; Rule, 2015; Volovelsky, 2014), Canada (Gersher, 2014; Luppicini & So,
2016), the UK (Finn & Wright, 2016; Finn & Wright, 2012; Hartmann & Giles,
2016; Pauner, Kamara & Viguri, 2015; Sandbrook, 2015), Germany (Bendel,
2016), Switzerland (Bendel, 2016), Australia (Volovelsky, 2014), and Israel (Volo‐
velsky, 2014).
It has been recognised that the EU legislation does not cover all the issues related
to drone technologies (Rao, Gopi & Maione, 2016). However, multiple regulations
are already in place, such as the Charter of Fundamental Right of the European
Union (2000) securing one’s privacy and the ‘right to be left alone’ (Finn &
Wright, 2016); the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC excluding households from
data processing;2 and the proposed General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation
2Although authorities and law enforcement agencies are exempt from this regulation (Finn &
Wright, 2016; Pauner, Kamara & Viguri, 2015).
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Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
(EU) 2016/679) requiring Privacy-by-Design and data protection impact assess‐
ment (Finn & Wright, 2016; Finn & Wright, 2012; Pauner, Kamara & Viguri,
4 Dual-use Dilemmas Regarding Drones
There is a disagreement regarding whether the military origin of drones is a
source of safety concern. Luppicini and So (2016) highlight along with Braun,
Friedewald, and Valkenburg (2015) that the safety of operating a drone does not
constitute a substantial concern in adversarial terrain. However, the issue of
drone safety plays a significant role in the civilian context (Braun, Friedewald &
Valkenburg, 2015; Luppicini & So, 2016).
The literature highlights the remaining influence of military applications as a
driver for drone developments. This is considered as an issue which ‘heavily bia‐
ses the progress into particular directions’ (Clarke, 2014a: 231). Braun, Friede‐
wald, and Valkenburg (2015) notes that when technologies migrate from one con‐
text to another, concepts related to the original context persist (e.g. narratives,
approaches to technological design, or attached notions such as security; (Braun,
Friedewald & Valkenburg, 2015, referring to Law, 2009).
4.1 Dual-use and the Military Origin of Drones
Boucher (2015) notes that during the European proposal for demilitarisation of
drones, military presence played a significant role in its development of the pro‐
posal. During the EC consultation period, the idea of reverse relationship (i.e.
when the military domain will benefit from re-adapting innovations developed in
civil domains) was considered from the beginning of the hearings (Boucher,
In the following high-level group conference inter alia, two statements were
agreed on. First, the European framework should favour dual utilisation of drones
(‘Conclusions of the First European High Level Conference on Unmanned Aircraft
Systems’ 2010). Second, that military representatives would be part of the high-
level group to ensure that this dual nature of drone operations is addressed from
the beginning (Boucher, 2015; also see ‘Conclusions of the First European High
Level Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ 2010). The relationship
between the civil- and military-drones was called ‘mutualisation’ in one of the
working group documents (Boucher 2015), before the publication of the final
(‘Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems into the
European Aviation System’ 2013).
Boucher (2015) notes that co-operation between military and civil domains is
nothing new. The novelty is in the involved cooperating market domains. Instead
of the weaponry market traditionally related to arms, it is the market of electron‐
ics that is now involved in the mutualisation of civil and military drones. In
Europe, this convergence is linked with an effort to secure a better military posi‐
tion, closing any gaps in the global arms races (Boucher, 2015), citing (Clouet,
2012). This fusion of military and civilian interests is recognised also by Bracken-
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The Dual-use of Drones
Roche (2016), who express their concerns regarding a dangerous complementar‐
ity of governmental and corporate needs, which results in placing the interests of
the public good in the background.
The migration of drone contexts from military to civil domains affects the public
vision and acceptance of drones (‘Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely-
Piloted Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation System: Annex 3. A Study on
the Societal Impact of the Integration of Civil Rpas into the European Aviation
System’ 2013). According to the ERSG, the ‘killing machines’ vision of drones
needs to be transformed (‘Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely-Piloted
Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation System: Annex 3. A Study on the
Societal Impact of the Integration of Civil Rpas into the European Aviation Sys‐
tem’ 2013). Such transformation should occur by adjusting strategies for public
communication, focusing on functional benefits of drones (e.g. robot helper-
vision), as well as their economic benefits (e.g. drones as the new iPods). Commu‐
nication with the public should, for example, abstain from using the word ‘drone’
(cf. the issue of ‘d-word’ shifts the language from technical specifications towards
practical applications and use (Boucher, 2015).
Additionally, drone enthusiasts may themselves provide support for maintaining
military themes and narratives regarding drones. Enthusiasts may be interested
in drones for self-defense, to fulfil certain militarist fetish, or to engage in rogue
activities (Boucher, 2015).
A greater concern regarding the dual-use of drones is expressed in the blurring of
the lines between public and private, military and civil spheres (Finn & Wright,
2012; West & Bowman, 2016). Firstly, the emergence of cyberspace supports the
development of cyberpower, which does not remain in the virtual world but has
become a new and real form of military force between states (Hartmann & Giles,
2016). Secondly, the persistent connection between military and civil realms in
drones impedes the clarification of the effects of such technology on individuals’
right to privacy (Volovelsky, 2014). Thirdly, blurring the distinction between mili‐
tary and civil contexts gives rise to novel inter-organisational relationships
(Klauser & Pedrozo, 2015), the effects of which on civil liberties have not been
investigated exhaustively. In Europe, law enforcement and security demands have
been given clear preference over civil liberties concerns if one considers that
drones are used and deployed in multiple law enforcement and other units since
2006, while very little discussion has been conducted regarding their effects on
marginalised populations (Finn & Wright, 2012).
4.2 Low Priority of Privacy Concerns
The military origin of drones also has consequences in terms of the low priority of
privacy concerns. Privacy is not an important issue in military operations, how‐
ever it is important in civil life. Nevertheless, it has been noted that, as a conse‐
quence, drone use in the civilian context also has a low priority of privacy con‐
cerns (Braun, Friedewald & Valkenburg, 2015). Braun, Friedewald, and Valken‐
burg (2015) note that the lack of focus on privacy is evident in drone develop‐
ment and design, with 5 out of 6 developers confirming that privacy is not one of
their deliverables, nor is it explicitly required by their customers. Moreover, man‐
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Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
ufacturers often supply both military and civil drone customers, with functionali‐
ties and patterns of civil drones that are similar to those of military drones. This
poses difficulties in finding solutions for customers who have alternative (i.e.
non-military) requirements (Braun, Friedewald & Valkenburg, 2015).
The task of implementing privacy-sensitive solutions is thus usually not an inte‐
gral part of the design process and is ‘retro-fitted,’ rendering their implementa‐
tion into the actual design of drone cumbersome (Braun, Friedewald & Valken‐
burg, 2015).
Finally, Boucher (2015) emphasises that such a close inter-dependence of military
and civil domains in European drone development is controversial, in terms of
conflict with its own Responsible Research and Innovation standards. In particu‐
lar, the management of public strategies towards greater acceptance of drones is
‘disingenuous’ (Boucher, 2015, 1408; Boucher, 2016, 1393). On one hand, public
concerns are admitted (e.g. ‘killer machines’ vision), while on the other hand, full
consideration of all consequences of drone-development are rejected (e.g. pri‐
vacy). Such a stance is not in accordance with responsible and transparent inno‐
vation (Boucher, 2015; Boucher, 2016).
4.3 Killing Machines
The image of drones as killing machines is one of the central assumptions of
ERSG, an image which, they argue, has to be tackled with more positive depic‐
tions and coverage of drones in the media (‘Roadmap for the Integration of Civil
Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems into the European Aviation System: Annex 3.
A Study on the Societal Impact of the Integration of Civil Rpas into the European
Aviation System’ 2013). However, Boucher (2016) questions this narrative, find‐
ing little evidence for such a negative assumption. The military context is seen
rather positively in the study conducted by Boucher (2016), recognising the life-
saving role of drones, especially in search and rescue operations. The threat that
was recognised by study participants was the prospective abuse of drones by ter‐
rorists (Boucher, 2016). The study participants first impressions of drones are
largely influenced by direct experience, and less so by the media and TV reports.
The main contributors to the negative picture of drones in the study were identi‐
fied as recreational drone users and hobbyists (Boucher, 2016).
The results of this study not only questions the rather disingenuous strategy of
the (‘Roadmap for the Integration of Civil Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems into
the European Aviation System: Annex 3. A Study on the Societal Impact of the
Integration of Civil Rpas into the European Aviation System’ 2013) in influencing
the public perception of drones (Boucher, 2015). It also questions the issue of the
‘d-word’ (Boucher, 2015), an issue that could not be confirmed by another study
(Lidynia, Philipsen & Ziefle, 2017).
The frequently raised objection linked with drones stems from their military ori‐
gin, namely, that drones endorse a ‘Playstation mentality’ (Finn & Wright, 2012;
Finn & Wright, 2016). This concept describes a supposed computer game attitude
of drone operators during military (killing) missions, significantly contributing to
the dehumanisation of those impacted by the drone. It is feared that a similar
attitude may be perceived in the groups of border protection forces (Finn &
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Wright, 2012), referring to (Hayes, 2006). The concern of the continuity of mili‐
tary contexts in non-military drone operations is also expressed by Sandbrook
(2015), for example, in opinions such as equipping drones, which are used to pro‐
tect wildlife from illegal hunters, with weapons.
4.4 Limitation of Civil Liberties, Acceptability of Drones
Drones raise substantial concerns regarding the limitation of current civil liber‐
ties by (private or state-led) law enforcement agencies (Finn & Wright, 2012),
referring to (Nevins, 2011). There are not only doubts about the goal of providing
greater homeland security but also about the means by which this is reached: gen‐
eral surveillance, when everybody is monitored, tracked, recorded, and possibly
can be targeted (Finn & Wright, 2012), referring to (Whitehead, 2010). The issue
with general surveillance lies mainly in its narrow sensitivity for details. Even if
those details are captured, it may increasingly incline towards enforcing the law
against illegal or illicit actors, rather than protecting the rights and entitlements
of all actors (Finn & Wright, 2012), citing (Wall & Monahan, 2011).
The public and ethical concerns and dissatisfaction regarding drones in relation
to civil rights and liberties is further strengthened by issues such as illicit discrim‐
ination, consequences of the ‘chilling effect,’ ‘function creep’ of drones, and
dehumanisation (Boucher, 2016; Finn & Wright, 2016; Lidynia, Philipsen &
Ziefle, 2017).
Multiple studies and polls confirmed the strongly held opinion of participants
that the general accessibility of hobby aerial robots is not favoured. Therefore, for
private use of aerial robots, strict regulation is preferred (Boucher, 2016; Finn &
Wright, 2016; Volovelsky, 2014; West & Bowman, 2016).
It may be argued that the easy accessibility of consumer aerial robots for enthusi‐
asts is justifiable based on their fun-element, which fulfils common desires (e.g.
fascination with technology, playful flying, capturing images). Bendel (2016)
identifies that the benefit of recreational aerial robots is for pleasure. However,
Lidynia, Philipsen & Ziefle (2017) report that aerial robot-users considered issues
of privacy, identifiability of the purpose of aerial robots based on its appearance,
less important compared with non-users. Clearly, the benefit originating from
pleasure is less important than the risk towards privacy and civil liberties. More‐
over, the general argument supporting the use of aerial robots is that it is a
safety-enhancing technology compared with manned aircraft. Disregarding risks
towards human rights and civil liberties should be considered as attempts to
diminish safety in relation of aerial drones. Personal preferences of aerial robot-
users and market interests of the aerial robot industry do not provide the equiva‐
lent strength of the argument that facilitates the disregard of (non-users’) reser‐
vations regarding human rights and civil liberties violations.
The issue of the identification of aerial robots emerged in relation to humanitar‐
ian aerial robots (Emery, 2016). However, the issue of identification in relation to
the acceptability of aerial drones received little attention in the reviewed litera‐
ture. Addressing this issue, after detailed scrutiny in empirical studies, may
increase the overall acceptability of aerial robots by the general public.
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Peter Novitzky, Ben Kokkeler & Peter-Paul Verbeek
Additionally, aerial robots are ideal platforms for ‘individuals and groups seeking
to impose their own morality on others’ (Clarke, 2014a, 241). Such eventual use,
either by ‘vigilantes’ or terrorists, substantially challenges the acceptability and
general availability of consumer drones for recreational users.
Finally, disturbance to the environment and wildlife caused by aerial robots also
weakens the arguments supporting the accessibility of aerial robots for a large
number of hobbyists.
5 Discussion
The emergence of novel sensor technologies with the miniaturisation of batteries
and computing hardware has enabled the development of flying machines
(drones) that are capable of (semi-)automatic hovering, with much smaller input
from the human operator (pilot) than ever before. Moreover, drones are capable
of carrying a wide variety of payloads, making this device ideal for providing
robotic support in dirty, dull, and dangerous operations, or conducting monitor‐
ing and surveillance missions.
However, the emergence of drones and drone technologies is related to contro‐
versies and ethical dilemmas since its introduction. Precision killing may on one
hand save many lives by avoiding the need to send armed men to a military mis‐
sion, but on the other hand, it is hard to justify in the context of missions that are
not defensive.
The interest of governmental agencies in such a powerful and capable technology
is somewhat understandable. Nevertheless, the lack of regulation and lack of
requirement for transparency regarding the operation of drones in civilian con‐
texts may trigger further controversies and ethical dual-use dilemmas for drone
operators, as well as the citizens of democratic societies.
The increasing number of joint research and other initiatives embracing military
and civilian aims, as highlighted by Boucher (2015, 2016), may be identified as an
additional source of dual-use dilemmas that need to be resolved.
With these potential sources of dual-use and ethical dilemmas, we should recog‐
nise the opportunity to act responsibly and proactively in averting the very possi‐
ble harms that could be inflicted due to misuse and malevolent use of drones and
drone technologies. Alternative models for assessing these risks and opportuni‐
ties during R&D as well as implementation of drones and drone technologies
should be explored, including key stakeholders, such as, the military, governmen‐
tal bodies, hobbyists/enthusiasts, and most importantly the general public. Edu‐
cating and engaging the public regarding the responsible and beneficial R&D and
use of drones and drone technologies offers us a chance for developing a frame‐
work that truly assesses and addresses the key concerns of the general public,
arguably the most important stakeholder, regarding the dual-use of drones.
Moreover, this putative framework would also feed into improving RRI and VSD
of drones and drone technologies.
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6 Conclusion
This paper highlights the critical importance of ethical dual-use issues with
drones and drone technologies. Assessing and addressing these issues is key, not
only for public acceptance of drones, but also for responsible use of drones, in
such a way that benefits individuals and societies.
These goals can be achieved by fulfilling the four general principles applicable to
dual-use dilemmas: social responsibility of the researchers, ‘no means to harm’
principle, scientific freedom, and collective responsibility for dual use (Barazzetti,
Diezi & Benaroyo, 2015). As demonstrated, especially the last two principles is
critical to fulfil in joined military-commercial endeavours and projects to avoid
controversies that may harm any of these two stakeholders.
These principles may be expanded by additional principles such as greater trans‐
parency. The principle for transparency is essential for conducting responsible
innovation in non-military domains. If military stakeholders favour the collabora‐
tion with non-military partners, it should adhere to the high ethical standards of
transparency towards its partners and the public, otherwise all the stakeholders
risk controversies and negative consequences in the form of whistleblowers,
eventually mass resignation of employees.
For non-military researchers it is crucial to maintain good relations with the pub‐
lic, as the public sphere is the ultimate source of research funding. If research
communities lose the essential support from the public, either due to opaque rela‐
tions with military stakeholders or questionable objectives, it may have long-term
negative consequences for the researchers themselves. Therefore, it is crucial that
researchers from the public or commercial spheres collaborating on projects with
military stakeholders insist on the ethical requirement of transparency, as this is
beneficial and responsible for all parties involved.
7 Acknowledgement
This paper was funded as a part of the project Responsible Design of Drones and
Drone Services: Towards an Ethical and Juridical Tool For Drone Design and Risk
Assessment (Project no. 313-99-318) by The Netherlands Organisation for Scien‐
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The word “drone” is commonly associated with the military. However, the same term is also used for multicopters that can be and are used by civilians for a multitude of purposes. Nowadays, drones are tested for commercial delivery of goods or building inspections. A survey of 200 people, laypersons and active users, on their acceptance and perceived barriers for drone use was conducted. In the present work, user requirements for civil drones in different usage scenarios with regard to appearance, routing, and autonomy could be identified. User diversity strongly influences both acceptance and perceived barriers. It was found that laypeople rather feared the violation of their privacy whereas active drone pilots saw more of a risk in possible accidents. Drones deployed for emergency scenarios should be clearly recognizable by their outward appearance. Also, participants had clear expectations regarding the routes drones should and should not be allowed to use.
What comes to mind when we hear the word “drone”? For many of us, it is the image of a General Atomics MQ-1B Predator drone launching a Hellfire missile at a suspected militant target. But is this picture beginning to change? Should this picture change?
Surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, were traditionally used by militaries in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia in their surveillance operations in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In the last five years, the extension of drone use into commercial applications has grown exponentially apart from military and recreational domains. The growth in domestic use has generated public concern and debate mainly surrounding safety and privacy issues. Guided by a technoethical lens (the study of technology's impact on ethics), a systematic review of commercial drone literature from 2010 to 2015 was conducted to explore social, governance, privacy, and ethical aspects of commercial drone use. Drawing on research, magazine, and newspaper articles, the study identifies the following key areas of social and ethical concern connected with commercial drones:. The study contributes to technology studies and media ethics research by providing insights into the state of public knowledge concerning commercial drones from an ethical perspective. The outcome of the technoethical review suggest that, although commercial drone use can improve lifestyle and increase efficiency, there is a need to invest more attention to possible negative and unknown consequences to facilitate ethical use of commercial drones.
As the B-52 bomber and the ICBM were the symbols of the Cold War, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is often prensented as an icon of military power at the beginning of the 21st Century. It epitomises a new way to wage war, as current operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have put the spotlight on UAVs. Although largerly used by military forces – mainly U.S. and Israeli – since the Vietnam War, UAV acquired this renewed status very rapidly in the last decade, and is henceforth considered as a key asset for military and political leaders, a “force multiplier” and a deciding factor for a military, if not political, victory on the ground.
When the United States Congress mandated implementation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the domestic airspace in 2012, there was substantial opposition to the policy change. Critics expressed fears regarding their threat to privacy and safety, and legislatures considered numerous bills that would significantly limit or even ban domestic unmanned flight. UAV advocates used various methods to counter UAV's negative image. This study examines media stories regarding UAVs over a four-year period (2011–2014) and demonstrates that despite the backlash against expansion, media frames emphasizing benefit rather than risk dominated in the U.S. media. The economic opportunities presented by UAVs appeared in most media reports and over time reports increased of relatively noncontroversial applications, such as agriculture. Citizen advocacy or frames that emphasized the personal freedom to fly a UAV also increased. Industry and university officials, who usually support expansion, were the most frequent sponsors of media statements. The framing of media reports can influence public debate. Potential risks of a new technology can be amplified or minimized depending on how the media present the issue to the public.