Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted clearance to several of the major American insurance agencies, such as Allstate Corp. and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., to develop unmanned aircraft for use in processing insurance claims. The drones have the potential to radically change the way insurance companies conduct investigations.
Instead of sending an agent who can only assess one property at a time and requires a significant amount of travel time, especially in dangerous conditions or during peak hours, the insurance agencies argue several drones could be operated at once, dramatically increasing response time in the wake of an accident or natural disaster. Additionally, the drones’ aerial coverage would potentially provide views of areas that are dangerous or cannot physically be reached by the claims adjuster.
However, several problems, particularly pertaining to privacy rights, remain unaddressed. It is still unclear just what the drone is allowed to capture with its camera. The FAA does state that the drone can only be flown on private property with the permission of the owner. Yet, the reasoning some of the insurance officials use, claiming, for instance, that privacy rights, to a large extent, have already been given away to small planes and helicopters, is somewhat concerning. The insurance companies undoubtedly want to spy on people who make claims. Insurance companies already secretly videotape claimants, spy on their social network sites, and call their friends to dig up dirt on them—even though it very rarely produces useful information. We believe regulations should be enacted prohibiting insurance companies from using drones to videotape the insurees and claimants on private property without their consent. The regulations should further require that insurance companies make any videos or data gathered available to any claimant. While it is unlikely that drones will replace humans anytime soon, don’t be surprised if you see them zipping around taking photos with a large State Farm or Geico logo on the side. And if you do, call your lawyer!