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Udall Introduces Bill to Protect Americans' Privacy from Private Drone Operators

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Following the expanding use of privately owned unmanned aerial systems (UAS), Mark Udall introduced the Safeguarding Privacy and Fostering Aerospace Innovation Act today to ensure that Americans' privacy rights are respected and federal laws address this emerging technology. Udall, a leading voice for the safe and responsible development of UASs, said his legislation will ensure that the inevitable development of private-sector drones is done responsibly and does not violate Americans' privacy rights.

"Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to create jobs and literally reshape numerous industries in Colorado and across the nation. But the only way the public will embrace the use of private drones is if these innovative, job-creating technologies do not compromise our privacy rights," Udall said. "UAS technology is already being used in Colorado and every other state -- and its use will only expand in the years to come. The Safeguarding Privacy and Fostering Aerospace Innovation Act updates our laws to address this emerging technology and protect Americans' privacy rights."

The Safeguarding Privacy and Fostering Aerospace Innovation Act will make it illegal for an individual or business to conduct surveillance of another person using UAS technology with several common-sense exceptions, including if the person has consented or if the person is in a public place. The bill also requires that UASs, like airplanes, are clearly marked with the name, address and telephone number of the owner.

"There is currently no federal legislation to address the growing privacy threat of drone surveillance," said Amie Stepanovich, director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Senator Udall's bill provides nationwide privacy protections to prevent people from using drones to stalk or harass others."

"The future growth of the UAS industry is critical for the Colorado economy," said Tom Bugnitz, CEO of the Colorado Association for Manufacturing Technology. "Sen. Udall's legislation is a significant step in addressing the public and private concerns surrounding UAS development, and is an important piece of legislation for ensuring Colorado's continued leadership in this important industry."

Udall, who recently led a bipartisan letter asking the Federal Aviation Administration to select Colorado as one of six planned UAS testing sites, started developing his bill earlier this year to ensure personal privacy laws keep up with the innovative and emerging private-sector applications of UASs.

The introduction of the Safeguarding Privacy and Fostering Aerospace Innovation Act also follows a recent U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that included testimony from experts on the domestic use of drones, including a representative of the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is a longtime and steadfast defender of Americans' constitutional liberties. Earlier this year, he successfully urged the IRS to abandon the use of warrantless searches of Americans' private electronic communications. And earlier this month, Udall decried the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI's decision to execute similar warrantless searches. Udall also was part of the bipartisan group of senators who successfully pushed the White House to provide access to the Department of Justice opinions outlining the legal basis for the targeted killing of Americans.

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