Jeff DuchameCollege of the North Atlantic made news recently when journalism instructor Jeff Ducharme developed a drone journalism code of conduct that his students will have to follow when using the unmanned aerial vehicle for news gathering.

This is a significant step towards standardizing drone use in public and private spaces, a very contentious issue for our future.

Drones have incredible capability to provide information in realtime to authorities and private citizens, about all manner of things.  Yet, as they are being prepped for daily use (and are being used now, in select areas), private citizens and institutions are concerned that people and organizations will use drones to violate personal and institutional privacy, potentially recording images and sound through windows or in screened back yards, etc.

Sycamore droneBecause of this concern, drone use is severely restricted in the US, even as companies like Amazon and venues like ballparks try to figure out ways of monetizing them as delivery devices and remote cameras.  (My novel Sarcology features drones used as autonomous delivery devices and surveillance equipment.) Civilians are largely restricted from operating them outside of their own property, or in certain limited areas.  The technology essentially has a tight leash on it, restricting it from many useful functions.

A set of clear laws are needed to provide reasonable procedures, guidelines and fair limitations that will allow any public or private user to operate the drones in a manner permissible to the public and private institutions.

Ducharme’s code of conduct document is a step in the right direction.  Having written rules of conduct allows public scrutiny and government review, and can be rewritten to satisfy any lingering public or legal concerns.  Further, they can be used to establish fines or punishments when the boundaries are breached.

Until such laws are ratified, drone use will continue to be tightly restricted in the US.  But eventually, all public and private drone use in the US will be subject to such laws as will be inspired by or formed from documents like Ducharme’s codes of conduct.  Once these laws and codes are in place, drones can take a useful place in our growing arsenal of useful technologies.

It may also be the opening salvo in a set of laws and codes of conduct for other autonomous devices that will enter the public space, from self-driving cars to automated security or personal assistance devices, designed to allow their use while keeping the public safe.