FAA Estimates That By 2020, There Could Be 30,000 Drones Flying In American Skies
Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-MA) (pictured), co-Chair of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, has introduced legislation to ensure standards for informing the public and establish safeguards to protect the privacy of individuals as the federal government develops a comprehensive plan for the use of drones in U.S. airspace.
H.R. 6676, the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act (DAPTA) amends the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act to include privacy protection provisions relating to data collection and minimization, disclosure, warrant requirements for law enforcement, and enforcement measures in the licensing and operation of “unmanned aircraft systems”, commonly known as drones. While there are many beneficial uses of drones – from spotting wildfires to assessing natural disasters – there is also the potential for misuse and invasive surveillance of daily activities. Many drones are designed to carry equipment such as video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar, and wireless network “sniffers”, with the capability to collect sensitive detailed information while operating in the skies above. The FAA has already begun issuing limited drone certifications for government entities and educational institutions.
“Drones should be used in accordance with privacy principles that protect Americans from unlawful surveillance and searches without their knowledge or permission,” said Rep. Markey. “The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act will ensure strong personal privacy protections and public transparency measures are in place at the beginning of the use of this new technology, not as an afterthought. I look forward to working with my Congressional colleagues on a bi-partisan basis to advance this important legislation to ensure that these ‘eyes in the skies’ don’t become ‘spies in the skies’.”
Specifically, DAPTA amends the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, adding the following provisions:
- FAA may not issue drone licenses unless the application includes a data collection statement that explains who will operate the drone, where the drone will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how that data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties, and the period for which the information will be retained.
- Law enforcement agencies and their contractors and subcontractors must include an additional data minimization statement that explains how they will minimize the collection and retention of data unrelated to the investigation of a crime.
- Any surveillance by law enforcement agencies will require a warrant or extreme exigent circumstances.
- The FAA must create a publicly available website that lists all approved licenses and includes the data collection and data minimization statements, any data security breaches suffered by a licensee, and the times and locations of drone flights.
“The increased use of drones in the United States should be accompanied by increased privacy protections,” said Amie Stepanovich, Associate Litigation Counsel, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). “EPIC has petitioned the FAA to address this challenge but the agency has failed to Act. We support Congressman Markey’s efforts to address this problem.”
“EFF continues to support Congressman Markey’s efforts to build privacy protections and greater transparency into the drone authorization process,” said Jennifer Lynch, Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The Congressman's new drone privacy bill adds much-needed safeguards to the 2012 FAA Modernization Act and will help to protect Americans from unwarranted drone surveillance.”
In April, Reps. Markey and Joe Barton (R-TX) sent a letter asking the FAA about the potential privacy implications of non-military drone use. In its response, the FAA said that it recognized that there are privacy concerns related to UAV use, and that "(t)here are aspects of the FAA's regulations and procedures that provide transparency and may contribute to privacy protections." The agency also said that it does not require applicants for Special Airworthiness Certificates (SACs) or Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) to "submit information regarding data that are collected by authorized UAS, how that information is used, how long the data are retained, and who has access to the data," adding "the public may request copies of SACs, COAs, and applications under the FOIA process."
The agency said that it review concerns about privacy as it relates to the use of UAX "in the context of ongoing UAS rulemaking activities and rulemaking plans."