Privacy SOS

Pipe Snake drone will crawl through the sewer into your bathroom

A new drone under development, the Pipe Snake, can be inserted into sewer pipes and emerge in your bathroom. If you’re already thinking about the little spider bots in Minority Report, listen to what the engineers behind the Pipe Snake say about where their innovation is headed:

"[They] imagine modifying the drone so that it can punch holes in the pipe and release a swarm of nano robots."

Sounds lovely.

The drone will be used primarily for search and rescue missions, the inventors say. But we know that tools invented for one purpose more often than not end up getting used for other, more nefarious purposes. Does that mean that we should block this kind of research? Not necessarily. But it does mean that we need laws to regulate the real world applications.

Knives can be used to chop up vegetables for a delicious meal; they can also be used to stab the chef in the back. We have laws banning that latter deployment of knife technology. Similarly, we don't need to outright ban drones. We just need laws banning government misuse of them.

If police and rescue workers want to use a Pipe Snake, or any other high tech robot, to find survivors in a burning building, or to communicate with people who have been taken hostage, fine. But if they want to send one of those things into someone’s home to spy on them for criminal or intelligence purposes, they should be required to get a warrant first.

Technology is changing rapidly, but our privacy expectations don’t have to. Take action now to support the Drone Privacy Act in Massachusetts. Tell the government that if police want to use a drone to spy, they need to first get a warrant.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.