FAA drone roadmap says test sites will inform privacy dialogue

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
Font Size:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on Thursday that the states and local agencies overseeing its six drone test sites must publish and allow the public to comment on  their privacy policies.

The FAA’s new rules were published in its road map for the integration of civilian drones into domestic airspace.

States are competing to be named one of the FAA’s six test sites by early 2014, as the agency continues to consider how it plans to introduce drones into domestic airspace.

The FAA has allowed limited use of drones into the national airspace for law enforcement, search and rescue, and academic research.

In order to address the concerns voiced by privacy and civil liberties advocates over the use of drones for surveillance, the agency is requiring the “non-federal public entities” — states and local agencies — in charge of operating the test sites to establish and publish a privacy policy.

The site operator must also provide a way for the public to comment on the privacy policy.

The FAA notes in the road map that it is not the mission of the agency to develop or enforce privacy or civil liberties policies, but “experience with the UAS test sites will present an opportunity to inform the dialogue in the IPC and other interagency forums concerning the use of UAS technnologies and the areas of privacy and civil liberties.”

The privacy rules developed for the test sites, however, are not to be considered long-term policy or regulations for the National Airspace (NAS).

“However, the FAA anticipates that the privacy policies developed by the test site operators will help inform the dialogue among policymakers, privacy advocates, and the industry regarding broader questions concerning the use of UAS technologiess in the NAS,” wrote the agency in the road map.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been one of the main privacy advocates in the domestic drone debate, applauded the agency’s new policy roadmap.

“Requiring public disclosures of data use and retention policies, as well as mandating audits, are needed and welcome safeguards,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.

“However, it’s crucial that as we move forward with drone use, those procedural protections are followed by concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored,” he added.

Calabrese also called on Congress to address how law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security use drones for surveillance.

Follow Josh on Twitter and Facebook