Intro: The fear is that “the next terror attack” could come from a drone guided by GPS. ?
You type it in the internet search field and wait for the results. Within seconds, you get many lucrative options loaded with the latest features, which can be easily purchased online, without any hassle. It is cheap, comes in various models, is loaded with highly advanced technique and has become a rage these days. And then, once delivered, you can use it anyway you want. No, I am not talking about mobile phones, tablets, laptops or camera; I am talking about ‘drones’- A flying machine which has garnered global attention for being perceived as latest objects of threat inflation.
Whatever the case, the use of drone as a surveillance and strike platform has caught the attention of the public and politicians. Today “drone” has become an object of fear, and there is an increasing call for legislation and regulation of their use.
To understand why these remote controlled objects could be next terror threat, let us first understand, what are drones? Why have they suddenly become so popular and what is the risk they carry. Drones are basically unmanned aerial vehicles or flying machines, which can be controlled through software programs (remote system) from land itself. They come in all shapes and sizes and contain highly advanced features. They were basically developed for military purposes, however eventually became popular for the jobs they can perform. Apart from supporting various surveillance and intelligence activities, they can also be used to detect bombs, hack computers and phone lines, check traffic, take accurate pictures from high altitudes and of course to deliver products at one’s doorstep. You can understand their usability by the fact that they were proved to be a significant source for the US armed forces to gather information about the hidden location of Osama Bin Laden.
The long journey of the drones from being a typical asset for the military to become a household name dates back to 1800s when the basic concept behind drones, using unmanned flying objects to fulfil the purpose, was used by Austrians against Venice. Austria used balloons carrying bombs in an attack against Venice. The mechanised drones that are seen today started developing since World War I; however, their use was limited to tactical purposes. The US has majorly used drones since 1959 in countries Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Many sophisticated drones were also used by the US during 1991 gulf war. Today, more than 50 countries are using drones across the globe.
In today’s world where our lives are driven by highly advanced technologies, drones have made their own space. Many e-retailers such as Amazon and Jabong now wish to use drones to deliver products at their consumers’ doorstep. Despite their high cost, many e-tailers are privately testing their delivery system based on drones for commercial purpose. A Mumbai based pizza shop recently delivered its pizza through a drone, which created a lot of buzz. Later it was found out that the shop actually did not deliver any pizza, and the drone was used for promotional activity. The same kind of promotional activities or actual deliveries are becoming news in the US and Russia also.
Since then it has become a significant topic of discussion as we need to understand the security risks associated with such usage. Although India was one of the few countries where civilian drones were allowed earlier, seeing the prospects of using them on large scales for commercial purpose, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has now banned using civilian drones until appropriate Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) are formulated and published. The regulations are under development by the ministry of defence, the Air Navigation Service provider, the ministry of home affairs, and other security agencies. DGCA took this decision in the light of the possible security threats, which drones can pose. Despite the fact that drones have been used by Mumbai police and other Indian government bodies too for surveillance purpose, we need to understand that there is a very thin line between offensive and defensive usage of a technology and hence as for now, the technology need to be used by authorised bodies or organisations following stringent guidelines to ensure national and international security.
We cannot overlook the positive aspects of using civilian drones for various purposes. They can be used to supply food, medicines and so on in case of a natural disaster. They can reach far-flung locations in minutes and deliver the expected product. This feature can be really useful for the farmers and those who live in remote villages as they can get a supply of whatever they want in minutes. This technique is time saving and hence can save many lives in times of crisis. However, there are challenges too to address.
Just imagine a situation where you can see drones flying freely over your home or office. Now imagine a scenario where you see a drone entering your highly-secured office campus. What is the guarantee that the drone has entered for mere delivery? Such drones not only pose a risk to our security, they can also be used to steal or capture sensitive or confidential information, or for spying. They can become an obvious choice for terrorists for causing havoc, which is a major concern not only for India but for the entire world. Also, we cannot neglect the possibility of aerial accidents, which can pose another life threat to the manned aircrafts. Apart from all these security threats, drones can also pose a challenge to environment, which also need to be analysed appropriately.
Currently, as the entire activity is new to the existing rules and regulations of our system, the technique needs to go under a thorough analysis to develop strict rules and guidelines for their usage. Moreover, even if the rules and guidelines are created and implemented, we cannot guarantee that the same will be followed to ensure that the drones are used for peaceful purposes only. What about the terrorists? Will they follow any such guidelines? And how would our system, offices and most of all, we as people ensure that the drone hovering over our heads is not meant for any destructive purpose? How would we detect and check it? These are some significant questions to be answered. It is not a question related to the cost that the drones involve, or developing laws that abide them to be used only for positive use. It is our safety and security, at personal, national and international level, which need to be ensured and hence as for now, the little machines need to be grounded.
Anshu Joshi? (The writer is a doctorate from JNU, New Delhi and a political analyst)?