Lawmaker wants FAA to publish names of drone licensees

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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The public may soon have the ability to search through the names of persons and organizations operating drones within the United States.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey introduced the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act (DAPTA) Tuesday, which attempts to create guidelines and limitations on how the FAA issues drone licenses.

The FAA is projecting that the number of licenses for domestic commercial drones could increase in the next five years, to exceed 10,000. The bill is the latest in the debate by federal, state and local officials over the use of domestic drones for law enforcement and other government purposes — such as scientific research — and commercial use.

While there is agreement over the benefits of drone use within the national borders, such as spotting wildfire and assessing natural disasters, privacy advocates remain concerned about their capacity to carry and fire weapons and conduct wide-ranging surveillance.

Markey’s bill would also require a warrant to be obtained if a drone is used for law enforcement or intelligence purposes, require license applicants to detail a plan for data retention, and mandate that the FAA create a public searchable database of drone operation licensees on its website.

Markey said that he hopes the advancement of the legislation will ensure that “these ‘eyes in the skies’ don’t become ‘spies in the skies.’”

DAPTA follows on the heels of a letter sent to the FAA by Markey and Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton in April asking about the potential privacy implications of non-military drone use.

The FAA responded, admitting that privacy is a “blind spot” in its oversight of non-military drones, which Barton called “misguided and wrong.”

The congressmen, both co-chairs of Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus, first issued a discussion draft of the DAPTA in August.

Privacy advocates from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also expressed their support for DAPTA.

On the state and local level in California, the debate is alive and well. California State Sen. Alex Padilla introduced a bill in early December that would make California the first state to regulate drones.

Padilla has expressed concern over the privacy, civil liberties and public safety implications surveillance drones would have.

“As this technology advances and becomes more widely used, it is imperative that we have clear standards in place for their safe and reasonable use and operation in order to protect the public,” said Padilla in a statement.

He also authored a bill that was signed into California law earlier this year that regulates the deployment of autonomous vehicles on California’s roads and highways.

On the county level, the Alameda County Sheriff’s office in California recently attempted to acquire grant money to buy a surveillance drone.

Berkeley city officials are also considering a proposal calling for a ban on drone flights above the city, as well as on law enforcement purchase and use of drones.

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