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15th Annual Olafson Ethics Symposium – A Student’s Perspective

As a student in the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, I have had the opportunity to experience countless real-world applications of business. This past week I got the chance to attend the 15thAnnual Olafson Ethics Symposium. I have been to this event two previous times throughout my college experience. The event does a great job of applying ethics to a different industry each year. This year the UAS industry was selected. Before the event, I had no idea what UAS even was but after a quick Google search, I found that it stood for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, AKA drones. I was a little skeptical about the topic and did not think I would be interested. However, to my surprise, it was a very thought-provoking and interesting topic. I would love to share a little bit about my experience at the event.


Gorecki Alumni Center

The night began with a dinner at the Gorecki, Alumni Center. There was a panel of four experts in the field that shared their insight on ethical dilemmas in UAS. One topic that came up sparked my interest, which was surveillance. With drones, surveillance will be a lot easier and efficient for the police force. However, that also creates several ethical issues. If the police have a suspicion that something illegal is happening, can they have a drone follow an individual around? Do they need a warrant? These are questions that have to be considered before drones are used by police departments or the FBI.


Chester Fritz Auditorium

Following the panel and dinner, we headed over to the Chester Fritz Auditorium where Lisa Ellman gave a keynote presentation on ethics in the UAS industry. Lisa is known as one of the “world’s foremost authorities on drones and law.” She attended The University of Chicago Law School and Harris School of Public Policy where she had Barack Obama as a professor! Lisa also spent time working in the top executive levels of the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice. Throughout her presentation, she talked about federal regulations, legal and policy issues, as well as privacy and data issues within the UAS industry. Lisa concluded her keynote with a question and answer with the audience. Privacy issues seemed to be the biggest ethical concern from the audience. This is because drones are used both commercially and recreationally. There are clear regulations for commercial uses but individuals using drones for personal use do not have many if any rules. This is scary because anyone can fly a drone in the air and record whatever they want. There are laws that only allow you to fly a certain height above houses or private property. However, if there is a good camera attached to the drone, the pictures or videos would still be very clear. Therefore, a random person could fly a drone around and above your house and get footage of you on your private property. This would create several ethical issues and a lot of anxiety for the general public.


Overall, the event brought several ideas to mind that I had never thought about before. With continuous innovation in technology, ethical concerns like those in the UAS industry will continue to arise. Ethics is clearly a subjective topic with a lot of grey areas. Bob Olafson, the donor for the event, shared a great analogy. Ethics is like the tree pose in yoga. It requires a lot of thought and focus, otherwise, you will start to wobble and eventually tumble to the ground. Similar to how companies teeter between ethical and unethical decisions, which could result in fines or lawsuits. Bob said to maintain his stability he focuses on one person that he trusts in the room to stay grounded. In business, consulting others or having a mentor could help businesses make ethical decisions and stay grounded like Bob does in yoga!

Bob Olafson


-Sophia Priem