Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 1, 2014

Markey Pushes for Privacy Requirements on Drone Operators

454485895 445x309 Markey Pushes for Privacy Requirements on Drone Operators

A technician for Deutsche Post DHL prepares a drone to be equipped with a package before a test flight in Bonn, Germany, in December. (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Edward J. Markey, D- Mass., has offered an amendment to the “minibus” appropriations bill that would essentially stop the Federal Aviation Administration from implementing, until certain privacy protections are in place, a final rule to allow for civil operation of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) .

The amendment also would impose certain privacy requirements on drones used by police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

For commercial drone operators, the Markey amendment would not permit a certificate or license to operate an unmanned aircraft system to be issued unless the applicant supplies a data collection statement.

That statement would have to spell out details such as the specific locations in which the drone would operate, whether the UAV would collect information about individuals, the period for which such information would be retained, and whether that information would be sold to third parties.

The data collection statement would also have to explain “the possible impact the operation of the unmanned aircraft system may have upon the privacy of individuals…..”

The amendment resembles a bill Markey introduced last year, the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act.

Last December, when Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos predicted drone delivery of Amazon purchases, Markey said, “Before drones start delivering packages, we need the FAA to deliver privacy protections for the American public. Convenience should never trump constitutional protections. Before our skies teem with commercial drones, clear rules must be set that protect the privacy and safety of the public.”

Ben Gielow, general counsel of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade association for the drone industry, said Thursday his group opposes the Markey amendment which he said would impose “unrealistic privacy requirements.”

He said, “The FAA is not a privacy agency. They are a safety agency. They should be focused on writing safety rules” for the use of UAVs.

Markey’s amendment, if it became law, would “basically kill his industry before it is even allowed to take off.”

Gielow said existing laws, mostly state and local, prohibit invading a person’s privacy, “regardless of how you invade it. Whether it’s an unmanned aircraft, a manned aircraft, or a telephoto lens, you’re breaking the law.”

Senators in both parties have voiced worry about the potential privacy implications of drone operations, both by domestic law enforcement agencies and by commercial users.

“The technology is way ahead of our ability to know how to cope with it,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D- Calif., said last year at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on domestic use of drones.

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