US senators consider UAV-related privacy concerns

Washington DC
Source: Flightglobal.com
This story is sourced from Flightglobal.com

Federal lawmakers and civil liberty advocates called for greater oversight of data collection by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at a Senate committee hearing in Washington, DC, on 15 January.

“Congress must act to create reasonable rules to protect the American people,” Diane Feinstein, a Democratic senator from California, tells the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

She urges the federal government to establish “strong, binding and enforceable privacy policies” before UAVs become more widespread in US airspace.

Feinstein says privacy rules should apply to both government and civil operators, and that law enforcement agencies should, in many cases, need a court warrant before conducting UAV surveillance.

The American Civil Liberties Union agrees.

“Policy makers must explore privacy protections” and create a “legal regime” to ensure drone surveillance does not violate citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, ACLU legislative counsel Chris Calabrese tells the committee.

Though the Fourth Amendment guarantees protection against “unreasonable searches”, Calabrese notes that US Courts have not yet interpreted how those protections relate to UAV surveillance.

The hearing follows the December 2013 naming of six UAV test sites by the US Federal Aviation Administration, which is charged with integrating UAV’s into the nation’s airspace.

In November, the FAA released its UAV “roadmap,” a document that outlines a multi-year process of creating new regulations and drone-specific certification standards.

The document largely does not address privacy concerns, although it does require test site operators to comply with state, federal and other privacy laws, have a publicly-available privacy policy and review the policy annually.

Support for greater federal oversight also comes from Democratic Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts.

In November 2013 Markey introduced a bill that would prohibit the FAA from issuing drone licenses unless the operator has a “data collection statement” that gives flight details and indicates what kind of data will be collected and how it will be used.

The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to have “data minimisation” statements explaining steps they will take to avoid collecting data that is unrelated to crime investigation.