Of all the threats to privacy that we face today, why have drones caught the attention of the American public to such a remarkable degree?

One possibility is that there’s something uniquely ominous about a robotic “eye in the sky.” Many privacy invasions are abstract and invisible—data mining, for example, or the profiling of Internet users by online advertisers. Drones, on the other hand, are concrete and real, and the threat requires no explanation. …

The drone issue has also gained momentum because the concern over it is bipartisan. While Democrats get most of the credit for pushing back on national surveillance programs, it was the Republican Party’s 2012 platform that addressed domestic surveillance drones, stating that “we support pending legislation to prevent unwarranted or unreasonable governmental intrusion through the use of aerial surveillance.” …

With drones, on the other hand, because of the safety and regulatory issues they raise, we have a chance to do it right. The American public and our elected representatives can, for once, get ahead of the deployment curve—we can raise awareness, propose protections, and build support for them before the problems hit us in the face. If done right, this moment of hyperawareness about privacy could become a more permanent state of affairs: Ryan Calo of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society suggested in a December 2011 paper that because of their “disquieting” nature, drones “could be just the visceral jolt society needs” to spark broader changes in how Americans conceptualize privacy problems.