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Privacy group urges privacy rules for domestic aerial drones

Domestic UAS

More than 100 privacy groups, experts and individuals have petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration to address the impact of aerial drones in the U.S. as the agency move to implement new rules for the vehicles’ domestic use.

President Obama signed a $63.4 billion Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill on Feb. 14 that opens the door for integrated commercial and civil use of unmanned aerial drones in U.S. airspace. The bill was aimed primarily at funding the FAA and its efforts to establish a new national navigation system for commercial aircraft, but it also includes provisions that  integrate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into the national airspace system and, in some cases, into the hands of emergency responders’ within 90 days.

The new law requires the FAA to come up with a comprehensive integration plan within nine months and to create a five-year UAS roadmap. It also requires expedited access for public users, like law enforcement, firefighters and emergency responders’ use of the vehicles, as well as allowing first responders to fly very small  --  4.4-pound  --  vehicles within 90 days, if they meet certain requirements.

The impending domestic use of UAS systems that can provide unprecedented platforms for surveillance for law enforcement, prompted the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and more than 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public to petition the FAA, urging the agency to address the privacy threats associated with the increased use of drones in the U.S.

"The privacy threat posed by the deployment of drone aircraft in the United States is great,” said the petition. “The public should be given the opportunity to comment on this development."

The petition points to the Bureau Of Customs And Border Protection’s  (“CBP”) operation of nine drone vehicles, procured specifically to monitor the United States borders.

In 2011, said the petition, CBP allowed a local law enforcement unit in North Dakota the use of a drone within the unit’s normal operations. That operation was the first occasion where drone use resulted in an arrest of a U.S. citizen. The group said the surveillance capabilities and expanding federal and local law enforcement acquisition of UAS – sometimes sanctioned by DHS  --  will pose an increasing threat to individual privacy.

It also said drones will be used in increasingly diverse applications under the statute, in ways that pose unique dangers.  It cited “paparazzi drones” that are being developed by companies to follow and photograph celebrities.  It said criminals may also use the technology to stalk and harass others.