Rebooting drone ownership: Does the IDF have the right idea?

The law in most of Israel regarding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) is relatively uncomplicated.

A drone (illustrative) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
A drone (illustrative)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Recreational drones are essentially limited – within line of sight of the operator – to a flight ceiling of 50 meters, in addition to which there are a number of no-fly zones, including military installations and airports.
Things are a bit stricter in Judea and Samaria, where Maj.-Gen. Nadav Padan, head of the IDF C4I and Cyber Defense Directorate, has just announced that it will soon be illegal to even own a drone without a permit from the IDF. Granted in this particular instance there are clear security reasons at play, and the law is on its face draconian, this rule, when implemented, will allow for an arguably necessary reboot of drone ownership, something many governments likely wish they could do, regardless of their own security considerations.
Most governments were taken by surprise by the rapid ascension of drones within society. Before they could be properly controlled or regulated, innumerable drones of all shapes and sizes flooded the market, allowing literally anyone to fly increasingly complex and complicated machines overhead.
With easy to operate software, drones can effortlessly cross ground-based boundaries or surreptitiously record activity. As drones become even more affordable and even more complex, there is an increasing likelihood that many individuals will find their property and privacy invaded by (unseen) overhead interlopers operating mostly out of sight of law enforcement.
In most jurisdictions, efforts in limiting drone excess are further exacerbated by the fuzzy divide between commercial and recreational devices. Recreational drones are ostensibly those devices that are piloted by a spectrum of hobbyists, both kids and adults, with vastly varying degrees of competency.
Although these drones are mostly smaller in scale, they can still carry sophisticated payloads of cameras and sensors, and can cause significant privacy harms if misused. Commercial drones, which are more tightly regulated in Israel, tend to be larger even more complex devices, albeit piloted by (hopefully) more responsible professionals or artificial intelligence, and are designed for completing defined goals and tasks. Threats to privacy and property come from both, but they necessitate distinct solutions.
Notwithstanding this real threat, policing all the individual drones is untenable (especially without extensive registration, licensing and identification requirements), but so is the expectation that we citizens should not interfere in the operation of drones that end up over our private property; there are no clear rules as to how a private citizen can protect themselves when a drone invades. Further, the web of stakeholders, which could vary for each drone sortie, also complicates the analysis of the when where and how to apply what aspects of the broad set of potential regulations.
Perhaps a post-facto registration and licensing system, as will be implemented in Judea and Samaria, is the best option.
Drones licensed as recreational and operated by recreational operators will follow one set of rules, drones licensed as commercial will follow another. Once registered and identified by their purpose, technological measures, such as those already implemented over no-fly zones in Jerusalem, could discriminate between the types of drones and their operators and implement the relevant laws automatically.
Large-scale registration after the fact is difficult both practically and politically, but is not impossible. In 1993, Canada instituted a controversial registry that required gun owners to register all of their restricted and prohibited firearms. Granted there were problems in implementation: depending on who you believe, either 70% of guns were never registered or 90% of gun owners registered their firearms.
However, gun ownership carries a lot of political baggage, drone ownership does not. The government should closely follow the IDF’s efforts, successes and failures here from a pragmatic standpoint: if the IDF’s efforts are successful in Judea and Samaria, perhaps similar registries can also be implemented in the rest of Israel, perhaps even becoming a paradigm for other countries to follow.
The author is director of the Zvi Meitar Institute for Legal Implications of Emerging Technologies at the Radzyner Law School, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), a researcher in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, and an intellectual property attorney. Dov has graduate degrees and postdoctoral fellowships from Yale, UC Berkeley, Stanford and Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zürich).