Given the many past posts on drones here at Knoxviews, I'm sharing a letter I just wrote to the organizers of a festival that I regularly attend (LEAF) about a rather unsettling experience I had with a drone operator at the festival this weekend.
Dear Ms. Pickering,
Congratulations on a great festival! It was my 18th LEAF and I'm looking forward to seeing you in the fall.
Sadly I am not writing you JUST about the wonderful things I and my family experienced (Red Baraat, Beats Antique, the many healing arts offerings, the boffer games), but about one extremely disturbing thing that happened.
On Saturday afternoon one of your festival personnel was operating a drone with a camera near the Lakeside stage. I was upset by this on several levels.
Safety: This was happening over a dense crowd and the operator flew the drone straight up above us more than 800 feet.
Drones have been known to fall on people. In Australia recently an athlete was injured by a falling drone. (link...)
At a festival, all it would take is one unlucky bird, one drunk person throwing a beer can, one kid with a rock, one balloon on a string, and fifteen pounds of spinning rotor blades would come plummeting into a crowd.
Appropriateness: LEAF is supposed to be fun and relaxing. Having a robot, armed with a camera flying overhead was anything but relaxing. It made me reflect on the intrusion of surveillance into every aspect of our lives in this post-NSA/Snowden world. As I started to talk about my feelings regarding the drone I quickly realized that I wasn't the only person disturbed by its presence. One person near me mentioned how if any law enforcement agency wanted access to the video recorded by that drone they could easily get it, with or without the drone operator's permission. Another pointed out that we had no idea who was operating the drone and who they planned to release their data to.
Staff response: My 9 year old son located the drone operator in the crowd so I went over and politely, without raising my voice, let him know that his drone flying was making me uncomfortable and that I wished he would put it away. The response from this twenty something white male with a LEAF badge around his neck was about as bad as it could have been. First he tried to brush me off as a nut job. "Would you be bothered by someone taking your picture on the ground?" I replied that what he was doing was entirely different. "What about video?" "Also completely different" I replied. Then he tried to turn the growing crowd against me. "Well this guy is no fun is he? He just wants to ruin our good time. Do you want me to put it away?" Most of this was directed at the kids who had gathered round, fascinated with the drone and understandably completely ignorant of the dangers and other disturbing aspects of its use. The drone operator then proceeded to ignore me and continue flying the drone around, sometimes at very high altitude right above my head. He finally put it away after about ten more minutes as I and a group of festival goers ( young and old) talked peacefully about the appropriateness of drones at LEAF. A lot of people took notice of this unfortunate incident.
I have never had an interaction with LEAF staff like this. To have a concern I raised be immediately brushed off by one of your staff, and then to have them publicly ridicule me, try to turn bystanders against me, ignore my request and seemingly try to annoy me... to say the least it makes me question your hiring process.
I would like LEAF to ban drones at future events. They are unsafe and inappropriate for such gatherings. I would also like to hear from the person you hired to operate the drone because I don't think they fully understand the dangers of what they are doing.
I will be posting this letter on facebook and elsewhere, not because I doubt that you will take action, but because I want to spark some discussion about the role of drone's in our society.
I hope to hear from you about this at your earliest convenience.
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