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We've surrendered to the drones that invade our airspace and our privacy

There's a sturdy shovel in your hand, soft soil to be turned, warm sun on the back of your neck. And then, within seconds, you're plunged into the stuff of bad dreams. There's a buzzing noise, growing louder by the second. First fear: you've hit a nest of wasps or, just as bad, there's an armada of angry bees coming your way. But where the hell are they?

Hurl the shovel, close your eyes and wave your arms maniacally above your head to ward off the imminent attack, doing your best imitation of an extra on the set of Hitchcock's The Birds.

And then all goes quiet. The buzzing retreats. You look up, squinting against the sun, to find the cause of your initial panic. A drone is hovering, maybe 30 to 40 metres directly above. Watching. Probably sending live video footage back to its controller. You wave your arms again, this time in frustration. Hurl abuse. The drone moves off and you race out to the front yard, driven by your anger and a growing sense of being violated.

But by the time you reach the gate the machine has disappeared behind a line of trees and the person guiding its surveillance is nowhere to be found.

Welcome to my backyard one afternoon last week, and to Australian suburban life, 21st-century style. What to do? How to overcome the outrage at such a blatant intrusion, particularly in a place where your family has traditionally been able to escape to, far from the madding crowd?

Well, short of illegally boosting your capabilities in the surface-to-air missile department to better counter that next invasion of your airspace, there's little you can do. We've surrendered the Australian backyard to a group of geeky remote control enthusiasts, real estate agents and god knows how many voyeurs, perverts and good old fashioned rubber necks.

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Not a great deal has been said about this in our headlong rush to embrace new forms of technology and gush over the prospect of our Jetsons-style future. Drones? Amazing things, huh? After all, doesn't Amazon want to deliver your shopping basket directly to your back doorstep? And didn't a pizza chain absurdly claim recently how it wants to bring your takeaway order through the skies to your home, presumably leaving a trail of melting plastic mozzarella along the way?

Three years ago a House of Representatives committee recommended it was time to introduce measures to protect the privacy of Australians against drones. Urgent action was needed, it warned, given the rapid advances in technology and the plummeting production costs that were putting "Remotely Piloted Aircraft" in the hands of anyone who wanted one.

"They can intrude on a person's or a business's private activities either intentionally, as in the case of deliberate surveillance, or inadvertently," said the committee.

"As RPAs become cheaper and more capable, and as the instruments they carry become more sensitive, they will provide governments, companies and individuals with the cost-effective capability to observe and collect information on Australians, potentially without their knowledge or consent."

The Australian Law Reform Commission called for a "tort of privacy" to protect us from these scrutineers in the sky. And even the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems – surely a group of experts who know their way around a remote control – recommended a ban on drones recording private activity of individuals.

What happened? Nothing. Despite warnings that our current mishmash of vague surveillance devices acts, unbalanced federal privacy regulations and various laws against trespass, breach of confidence or acts of public nuisance do not provide Australians with reliable protection from being filmed or observed by a drone, the government sat by and allowed anyone to send a craft over your backyard.

It's all too easy. You can buy one of these devices for as little as $100 and unless it weighs more than 2 kilograms and travels no higher than 121 metres, it does not need to be registered with the civil aviation authority. So there's really nothing preventing that weirdo living in the next street from getting his rocks off by examining your backyard, or having his stand-in eyes hovering in front of your bedroom window.

Of course many will simply shrug and ask what the big deal is. Hasn't your smart phone kept track of your movements and uploaded massive loads of data to multinational companies, anyway? Didn't we surrender this notion of privacy years ago when we embraced new technology?

Maybe we did. But isn't it more than a little creepy - not to say an outrageous intrusion into your life - that someone is allowed to watch and film you in your home?

If we can hear the buzzing of an overhead drone, surely it won't be long before we start hearing footsteps, too.

Garry Linnell is co-presenter of The Breakfast Show on 954 Talking Lifestyle.

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