The Commercial Drone Alliance (CDA) voiced its opinion on the drone privacy legislation that was recently reintroduced by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey and U.S. Representative Peter Welch. The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act, seeks to ensure transparency and privacy of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations. However, the CDA argues that this bill would create an additional layer of regulation that departs from existing technology-neutral standards. CDA recommends that existing laws should apply—that is, the laws that currently apply to similar advances in photography-related technologies like photos captured by handheld cameras, smartphones, telephoto lenses, helicopters and now, even UAS. Current laws protect against trespassing, stalking and peeping toms, and can be applied to the UAS technology which does the same thing as these other technologies—capture video and images.
The proposed bill requires drone operators to make publicly available (through the Federal Aviation Administration) (FAA), listings of their future operations, such as where, when and for what purposes the drone is flying. The CDA is concerned that this would remove the discretion of the operator on the ground to determine the safest and most efficient flight paths and will be extremely onerous for operators. The proposed bill also requires the release of each drone’s technical capabilities; the CDA is again concerned here because it would require the release of proprietary business information.
Another issue that may arise with this proposed bill is the administrative burden on the FAA, and the FAA’s ability to appropriately maintain, use, protect and share this information with the public. The same type of issue arose when the FAA firs proposed (and has since implemented) an online registration portal for drone operators (from hobbyists to commercial operators).
The CDA recommends that the legislature support (and perhaps adopt) the voluntary best practices that were issued in May of last year. These best practices were agreed upon by many members of the UAS industry as part of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency’s (NTIA) multi-stakeholder process on UAS privacy, transparency, and accountability.
While the proposed bill is still in its infancy, there are certainly many considerations. The CDA has started the conversation and highlighted the voluntary best practices that are out there, but perhaps have not yet been adopted and understood by the public at large. We will continue to track this legislation.