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Bill would impose privacy restrictions on drones

Congressmen say consumers are vulnerable to uncontrolled snooping

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Privacy advocates have been pushing for protecting consumers from overhead drones, and now a Congressional bill aims to do just that. The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2017 was introduced yesterday by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

"Drones flying overhead could collect very sensitive and personally identifiable information about millions of Americans, but right now, we don't have sufficient safeguards in place to protect our privacy," said Markey. The lawmakers introduced similar legislation in the last Congress but no action was taken.

The measure would set standards for informing the public about the location, timing, and ownership of unmanned aerial vehicles. It would also require privacy protection provisions relating to data collection and minimization, disclosure, warrant requirements for law enforcement, and enforcement measures in the licensing and operation of drones.

Privacy & transparency

The FAA estimates that as many as 2,700,000 commercial unmanned aircraft systems will be sold each year in the United States by 2020.

“As the presence of drones in our airspace becomes more commonplace, Americans are rightly growing concerned about their privacy,” said Rep. Welch in a statement. “Drones are a valuable tool for commerce, law enforcement, and public safety as well as a fun hobby. Our statutes must be updated to reflect the emergence of this soon-to-be ubiquitous technology to ensure privacy and transparency in their operation and use.”
The measure would: 

  • Prohibit the FAA from issuing drone licenses unless the license application includes a data collection statement that explains who will operate the drone, where the drone will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how that data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties, and the period for which the information will be retained.
  • Require law enforcement agencies and their contractors and subcontractors to include an additional data minimization statement that explains how they will minimize the collection and retention of data unrelated to the investigation of a crime.
  • Require that any surveillance involving drones by law enforcement agencies must be accompanied by a warrant or collected under extreme exigent circumstances.
  • Require the FAA to create a publicly available website that lists all approved licenses and includes the data collection and data minimization statements, any data security breaches suffered by a licensee, and the times and locations of drone flights.

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