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Empowering the public’s privacy with ADS-B




The people of the U.S. and the world are waking up to the notion that they may have traded the conveniences technology affords in exchange for privacy. The current flashpoint is Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or “Drones.”


This technology and capabilities have come to be widely acknowledged as an effective tool in a protracted Overseas Contingency Operation. As such we are accepting of certain capabilities while they are safeguarding the security of our countries; yet raise public concerns about possible abuses.




Privacy concerns have gone pandemic in the press, on the web, and in the minds of the public at large. Are Unmanned aircraft really to blame for this perceived threat to the mainstay of American democracy, privacy? Not so much to blame, but a flashpoint in the sense of who exactly is in control. One can hardly visit a webpage, read a magazine or newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio without hearing about “Drones.” The nomenclature does a disservice to us as the word in of itself conjures up some sort of semi conceivable futuristic robotic maelstrom.


This current privacy pitfall had entirely blindsided many in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) community. Most act as they are taken aback that the public was not ready to accept them willingly and with open arms. A game of catch-up for us now ensues.


What do we do to divest ourselves of these misrepresentations? I will impart several possibilities in succession. These represent immediate and realistic solutions to the issues and concerns commonly held by the public. If the community is ready to enact them, we can move forward. If not, we may only cause ourselves more hardship




If we had definitive regulatory language from the FAA we could highlight the extremely limited flight envelopes that will be sanctioned for our use. Experience has shown us that COA holders could easily assuage many of the ACLU’s privacy concerns in this manner. In lieu of this language, we have to appeal to the public on our own.


We should encourage and support technologies that empower the general public knowledge of what is flying in proximity to their homes or place of business. This openly affords the option of timing activities where privacy may be desired. Furthermore, we should not allow ourselves to be maligned by those holding sentiments suggesting that the public at large should feel the need to defend their individual rights to privacy. Insisting that only “those doing wrong have something to hide” is an un-American notion and a broad affront to our fellow citizens.


We need to distance ourselves from anyone person, business or group that espouses such vacuous nonsense. We as a community are offering tools or vehicles that provide a platform for a myriad of uses from a large and varied pool of potential applications besides law enforcement Federal, State and Local. Applications like agriculture, entertainment, firefighting, private and public asset management, etc is by in large seen as a positive thing. As is the norm with any other technology, or product for that mater, we as a community have a certain expectation that the end-user should and will act responsible and in accordance with the laws of the country in which it is operated.


This expectation of professional responsibility are the same for any other technology employed by the public safety sector and is already covered in the United States by the various amendments to the Constitution and opinions held by the Judicial Branch. Privacy laws for commercial aerial photography already existence, those should directly overlay onto these systems and capabilities. We should always take steps to encourage community based “best practices” as well as compliance with laws that safeguard the public’s privacy.


These notions can effectively be reinforced by providing the public with more of a personal “open house” sort of philosophy; focusing on the small businesses who employ our neighbors, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles and friends. Openness and honesty at this level will go far is dispelling apprehension as well as fostering acceptance of a technology with a host of beneficial applications.




Patrick Egan is the Editor of the Americas Desk at Provides consulting services to the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab, and serves as the President of the Silicon Valley Chapter of AUVSI.


Patrick Egan has 8 years of profession experience in the application of both commercial and military Unmanned Aircraft Systems. He has spent as many years involved in the Global airspace integration effort and served on the FAA sUAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (Order 1110.150).

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