As state and local governments, businesses, and private individuals increasingly use unmanned aircraft -- commonly known as drones -- in U.S. airspace, Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) today sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) querying the agency about the potential privacy implications of non-military drone use. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act passed in February requires the agency to fully integrate government, commercial, and recreational drones into U.S. airspace by October 2015. Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment, including video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar, and wireless network detectors, raising questions about how the privacy of individuals will be safeguarded and how the public will be informed about drone use, whether by law enforcement, commercial enterprises, or private individuals.
"We must ensure that as drones take flight in domestic airspace, they don't take off without privacy protections for those along their flight path," said Rep. Markey. "The potential for invasive surveillance of daily activities with drone technology is high. Standards for informing the public and ensuring safeguards must be put in place now to protect individual privacy. I look forward to the FAA's responses and will monitor this situation as the use of drone technology in our airspace increases."
"As a leader in privacy, consumer protection is always at the forefront of my mind," said Rep. Barton. "When the domestic use of drones was legalized in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, I knew that the usage of these unmanned aircraft would bring a great benefit to our local and state governments, as well as some businesses. I proudly supported this bill.
"However, if used improperly or unethically, drones could endanger privacy and I want to make sure that risk is taken into consideration. I will continue to work with my colleagues to champion every American's right to privacy, and I look forward to the responses from the FAA."
The letter to the FAA can he found HERE.
In the letter to the FAA, Reps. Markey and Barton ask questions about the privacy implications of drone use, including:
· What procedure does the FAA currently use to grant temporary licenses for drones?
· What privacy protections and public transparency requirements has the FAA built into its current temporary licensing process for drones used in U.S. airspace?
· Is the public notified about where and when drones are used, who operates the drones, what data is collected, how is the data used, how long is the data retained, and who has access to that data?
· How does the FAA plan to ensure that drone use under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act is transparent and protects individual privacy rights?
· How will the FAA determine whether an entity applying to operate a drone will properly address these privacy concerns?
Reps. Markey and Barton have been the Congressional leaders on providing privacy protections for personal consumer information. The lawmakers have investigated the data privacy and security practices of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, College Board, Groupon, the four major wireless carriers, and the Social Security Administration, among other entities.