With the Secretary of Transportation scheduled to develop a comprehensive plan for non-government drones as soon as November 2012, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today released a discussion draft of legislation that would ensure that privacy considerations are included in the rulemaking process for licenses for "unmanned aircraft systems", commonly known as drones, and that the public is made aware of drone licenses and times and locations of commercial drone flights. Entitled the "Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2012", the draft bill amends the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Modernization and Reform Act to include provisions on FAA rulemaking, data collection and minimization, enforcement, and disclosure.
The FAA estimates that by 2020, there could be 30,00 drones in use over American skies. Many drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment, including video cameras, infrared thermal imagers, radar, and wireless network sniffers, with the capability of collecting sensitive information from the skies above. The FAA has already begun issuing limited drone certifications for government entities.
"When it comes to privacy protections for the American people, drones are flying blind," said Rep. Markey, senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and co-Chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus. "Drones are already flying in U.S. airspace -- with thousands more to come -- but with no privacy protections or transparency measures in place. We are entering a brave new world, and just because a company soon will be able to register a drone license shouldn't mean that company can turn it into a cash register by selling consumer information. Currently, there are no privacy protections or guidelines and no way for the public to know who is flying drones, where, and why. The time to implement privacy protections is now. This discussion draft will help ensure that pilotless aircraft isn't privacy-less aircraft and the strongest safeguards are put into place for Americans."
Specifically, Rep. Markey's legislation amends the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, adding the following provisions:
The Secretary of Transportation must conduct a study of privacy impacts of drone use in consultation with the Department of Commerce, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Homeland Security Privacy Office. A report must be issued to Congress.
The FAA must include privacy considerations in its overall rulemaking process for drone licenses, using as the Federal Trade Commission report titled "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations for Businesses and Policymakers' as the standard.
The FAA may not issue licenses unless the application includes a data collection statement that explains exactly what kind of data will be collected, how that data will be used, and how the licensee will protect privacy.
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.
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.
"We don't want to live in country with "eyes in the sky'," said Amie Stepanovich, Associate Litigation Counsel, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "EPIC has petitioned the FAA to develop privacy safeguards, and we have urged Congress to crack down on surveillance by drones. Congressman Markey has introduced important legislation that will help protect a fundamental American right."
"EFF supports Congressman Markey's efforts to build privacy protections and greater transparency into the drone authorization process," said Jennifer Lynch, Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Drone surveillance, whether by private or public entities or by law enforcement, poses a real threat to democratic societies, and this bill is a step in the right direction toward limiting that threat."
In April, Reps. Markey and Joe Barton (R-Texas) sent a letter querying about the potential privacy implications of non-military drone use. The lawmakers are awaiting response from the agency.