Protect privacy from drones at home, lawmakers say

By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Before thousands of civilian drones begin flying in U.S. skies, Congress should take steps to protect the public’s privacy and prevent terrorists from hacking or jamming signals that control the aircraft, lawmakers said Thursday.

House members from both parties said at an oversight hearing that they’re worried about potential privacy and security threats as the use of small unmanned aircraft becomes widespread. The Federal Aviation Administration forecasts an estimated 10,000 civilian drones will be in use in the U.S. within five years.

Even Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, co-chair of bipartisan group of lawmakers promoting greater domestic use of drones, acknowledged that legislation to protect privacy may be necessary.

There is tremendous demand to use drones at home for all kinds of tasks that are too dirty, dull or dangerous for manned aircraft. Drones also are often cheaper than manned aircraft. The biggest market is expected to be state and local police departments.

Industry experts predict the takeoff of a multi-billion dollar market for civilian drones as soon as the FAA completes regulations to make sure they don’t pose a safety hazard to other aircraft. But the agency’s focus and expertise is safety, not security or privacy.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, complained that no federal agency has been willing to tackle the issue of drones and privacy. He said Department of Homeland Security officials refused a request to testify at the hearing, saying regulating civilian use of drones wasn’t the department’s responsibility.

McCaul said he is considering seeking a subpoena to force officials to testify at a future hearing or asking the White House to issue an executive order requiring the department take responsibility for the matter.

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