Ethical use of drones in COVID-19 national emergency response programme

08 June 2020 | Story Supplied. Photo Adobe Stock. Read time 3 min.
One of the major challenges presented by COVID-19 is the ethical and responsible use of technology for public security and surveillance activities.
One of the major challenges presented by COVID-19 is the ethical and responsible use of technology for public security and surveillance activities.

A novel initiative from the newly established Tech4Good Lab within the School of IT at the University of Cape Town (UCT) aims to take the lead in building a Drones4Good knowledge community that will extend beyond South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.

We live in an era in which technologies are transforming society rapidly. As such, there is a need for ethical frameworks and normative standards where societal values must be promoted as priorities.

One of the major challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa – and worldwide – is the ethical and responsible use of technology used for public security and surveillance activities. An example is how mobile technology can covertly collect and track citizens’ movements and internet activities through forensic cloud analysis.

 

“This is how we can work together in an ethical way to combat the spread of this virus and avoid the abuse of human rights.”

Led by Dr Sumarie Roodt and Dr Walter Uys, the Drones4Good knowledge community will determine the main privacy, safety and utility considerations (ethical, legal and social implications) regarding the use of drones for crowd monitoring, message broadcasting and social distancing activities related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We must seek effective and practical actions and produce high-quality solutions in a flexible and creative way to disseminate ideas, research and programmes,” said Roodt.

“This is how we can work together in an ethical way to combat the spread of this virus and avoid the abuse of human rights.”

Collaborative research

Discussions with other national stakeholders involved in drone development and deployment in the Global South have been initiated across business, government and civil society clusters, such as the regional not-for-profit company the Silicon Cape Initiative. As Africa’s largest and most productive technology innovation ecosystem enabler, Silicon Cape is helping to engage regional stakeholders in the drone innovation space.

“Through our research we strive towards a collaborative research and practice platform with multi-party participation and invite global business, academic, government and non-governmental institutions to participate. Even the public will be welcome to participate to help us build a more complete consensus that this problem and issue requires,” explained Uys.

The team plans to connect and encourage all parties to carry out targeted and interdisciplinary exchanges and cooperation in response to new problems brought about by this novel technological deployment.

The Drones4Good initiative is a collaboration between UCT, the University of Auckland and the University of Western Australia.


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