Americas Civil Police RCAPA Regulation

Center for Democracy & Technology states its position on privacy and UAS

Using a Grand Forks Predator to help in a civil arrest may have opened up a can of worms for rule makers in the USA.
Harley Geiger Policy Counsel from the Center for Democracy and Technology wrote to sUAS News to underline CDT’s position.
Some sensible stuff here.
As you are aware, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intends to issue a proposed rulemaking on civilian sUAS use in the United States this coming spring, but this has caused controversy over privacy. I believe it is in the best interests of the drone community and consumers generally to temper this controversy with some basic rules.
The FAA cannot solve many of the privacy problems raised by domestic UAS use, such as Fourth Amendment issues regarding law enforcement use of drones – Congress and the judiciary should address these problems. However, the FAA is responsible for safe and efficient use of the national airspace, and the FAA’s aircraft certification processes already require applicants to disclose ownership and system specs. Although the FAA may have limited authority to prohibit particular uses of UAS, the FAA can establish some basic transparency requirements:
  • First, the FAA should require all applications for a domestic UAS to include a statement  disclosing whether the UAS carries equipment that is capable of collecting identifiable information about individuals. If so, the statement should describe that equipment.
  • Second, the FAA should make UAS applications and accompanying statements publicly available in a searchable format. There could be an exception to this requirement for national security, but not law enforcement.
Taken together, these two critical requirements would generally prohibit the secret use of UAS and shed light on how UAS are being used. These requirements will certainly not resolve all the privacy concerns raised by UAS, but transparency is as crucial to privacy as it is to safety and efficiency. I go into more detail on these recommendations in my blog post:

Similar Posts

10 thoughts on “Center for Democracy & Technology states its position on privacy and UAS
  1. Gary,

    I am having a problem with the one sided UAS only focus on the fourth amendment. Today we already have hundreds of aircraft in the airspace in any given Day that are collecting both commercial and government data while airborne.

    It would seem to me that the existing case law should read no differently on an unmanned aircraft than a manned aircraft.

    Presently their are no equivalent requirements, as proposed in this article, for manned civil, public agency or federal aircraft collecting photographic data.

    Why should we single out unmanned aircraft? Are the proponents of the proposal just looking to get the elephants foot in the door at the expense of further regulatory delays for UAS in the NAS?

  2. I hear you, but the Government can’t be allowed to bend the rules and task UAS in the NAS when regulations don’t permit it. But it is all madness for day to day within VLOS sUAS tasks.

  3. As far as I can tell the government is not bending the rules they already have in place for manned surveillance.

    Do you have any specific examples where the government has treated data collected by unmanned data with less regard that that they are collecting from manned aircraft, fixed cameras and cameras in their ground vehicles?

    As for civilian collection of data, I personally have several Friends that never start drive a car without a camera collecting data they may use to defend themselves against a frivolous lawsuit from an accident.

    One of them has even provided video of a third party accident when asked by the LEO that interviewed them as a witness to the accident.

    As I said in my original response the scope of the problem is much larger than regulating one of hundreds of manned and unmanned collection devices.

    Yes we need to create a solution and yes it needs to be comprehensive enough to address the real problem. Not just some patchwork regulatory opportunity that makes broad consistent enforcement of an unfunded mandate impossible.

    Best Regards,
    Tom Hanan

  4. I whole heartedly support the development and standardization of broad photographic privacy best practices and minimum legal requirements that can be applied and enforced uniformly across the tens of thousands of types of existing and emerging manned and unmanned civilian, public agency and government photographic collection, storage and retrieval systems and applications.

    Thats the mountain!
    Challenge your selves to climb it!

    Best Regards,
    Tom Hanan

  5. “Why should we single out unmanned aircraft?”

    IMHO, there are two reasons why UAV/UAS should be treated more stringently than manned aircraft. First, the very low cost of UAS vs. manned aircraft makes it possible for LEO to use them in far greater numbers than they could every conceivably use manned aircraft. Second, the inherently stealthy design of UAS (small size, low noise, etc.) means that people are much less likely to notice UAS operating near them. Taken together, these two factors allow potential abuse that is orders of magnitude greater than possible with manned aircraft.

    I am very interested in UAS. I would like to see their use grow. Quite honestly, I would like to begin experimenting with low cost UAS myself (FPV aircraft, for example). However, the UAS community has to be aware of the potential for abuse of these systems, and needs to be on guard to prevent this abuse if they want to avoid backlash from the general public.

  6. On the other hand I loath the misconception that you can reform a mountain (all public photographic surveillance) by concentrating on the minuscule mole hill (UAS surveillance)next to it.

    Civilian and commercial UAS photographic privacy are the mole hill next to the hundreds of millions of consumer, commercial, public agency and government digital photographic devices capturing and storing billions if not trillions of individually identifiable photographic surveillance frames each year.

    That makes commercial UAS less than .01% of the solution. Which means that it will have to be re-solved to bring it into compliance once a consensus is reached on a broad well thought through common frame work for public photographic privacy recommendations and requirements.

    To put this in perspective there are 1 million times more cell phone cameras than UAS being flown by local pubic agencies.

    Do you trust your neighbors 13 year old son that posts everything he takes a picture of on face book more than a sworn officer with a duty to protect and serve?

    Thats essentially what people are proposing when they say we should concentrate on patchwork restrictions for applications that are less than .01% of the problem.

    It’s not good politics,
    and it even worse regulatory practice.

    Best Regards,
    Tom Hanan

  7. Mike, you make a valid point about concentrating on low cost stealthy un-noticed surveillance.

    But again you may have overlooked the fact that > 99.99% of the hundreds of millions of existing and rapidly growing surveillance and personal cameras are both pervasive (accepted) and or stealthy.

    Granted everyone involved in collecting photographic information in public and private spaces needs to take due care with that information. UAS are no exception.

    But that is exactly my point, UAS are no exception.

    We as a society need to address UAS photographic privacy as one small part of a broad social issue that sets broad consistent standards and requirements that establish accepted commercial and personal behavior that address the tsunami of commercial and personal cameras that are at the core of privacy concerns in our society.

    Listening to talk about focusing on the smallest part of the problem is like watching the guy walk out into the ocean as the tide recedes only to be swept away a few moments latter by an unstoppable tsunami.

    It’s the closest analogy I can give you that relates to the true size of the photographic privacy problem we currently face.

    UAS are just the curious but relatively harmless receding of the water before the real and unstoppable damage from the tsunami waves hit.

  8. Tom you make some excellent points, the problem is much more wide-spread than UAS. BUT there are several points you seem to ignore.
    1. Cell phones, cameras, camcorders normally are accompanied by the human user. I can see the person taking the photo. I may not know whether they are taking my photo, but I have the ability to associate a person with the act. This inhibits the illegal actions on the part of the user. A UAS is a remote device. I can’t see who is behind the UAV taking my picture. The anonymity of the UAS can encourage misuse.
    2. UAVs can go in places that people with a camera cannot. They can fly up to a second story bedroom window and peer in. Someone might think their room is not visible from the ground, not realizing they are susceptible to a peering UAV. Again the potential for misuse is magnified.
    3. UAVs are fighting an uphill battle with the FAA and the public for acceptance into the airspace. The slightest bad press they get can set back that progress by years. The UAV marketplace needs to be ultra-sensitive to safety and privacy concerns in order to gain that acceptance.

    In short, UAVs are different from cell phones and we do need to be very careful about the public’s perception in order to ensure continued growth and use.


  9. Harley is having issues getting a reply in so I will paste it in for him.

    Hello. I am the author of the above letter and linked blog post. Great discussion on this comment thread! I actually think both Mike and Tom are right here.

    I agree with Mike that UAS do possess unique features that make them worthy of regulatory attention, especially low cost and wide availability – your neighbor or local government are much more likely to fly a UAS than a helicopter, for example. However, I strongly agree with Tom that standard rules for photographic privacy that include UAS, manned aircraft, and non-aerial surveillance are sorely needed and way past due. In fact, any effective privacy solution must cover much more than just photographic surveillance – patchwork regulations are failing us. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) advocates for baseline consumer privacy legislation that also encompasses online privacy, health privacy, biometrics, and other information categories.

    Nonetheless, there is a very good reason to focus on rules for sUAS now. As I mention in my letter above, the FAA plans to propose regulations for sUAS this coming spring (supposedly). The regulations are unlikely to cover manned aircraft or public photographic surveillance in general – the rules will likely only apply to sUAS. So while I certainly agree with Tom that sUAS surveillance is but one piece of a larger problem, it’s still very important that we take the opportunity presented by the FAA rulemaking to address this one piece. CDT will issue the recommendations I list in my letter above to the FAA when the FAA opens its proposed rules for public comment. And, regardless of the outcome, CDT will continue to advocate for broader privacy reforms to address the larger problem.

    Thanks for reading!


    Harley Geiger

Comments are closed.