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U.S. Drone Test Sites Must Include Stronger Privacy Protections

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EFF Outlines Five Ways the FAA Can Protect the Public and Ensure Transparency

A160 ARGUS-helicopter drone 0San Francisco - The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) proposed privacy requirements for domestic drone test sites are not robust enough to protect the public, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argues in its official comments filed with the agency this week. EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch outlines five key recommendations to safeguard privacy and civil liberties while allowing unmanned-aerial-system operators to explore the potentials of the emerging technology.

"When it comes to drones, the FAA needs to examine privacy issues with the same rigor it applies to flight and mechanical safety," said Lynch, who has filed two successful lawsuits against the federal government over drone-related Freedom of Information Act requests. "Just as vague safety regulations for drones could result in damage to life or property, vague privacy measures could harm civil liberties."

President Barack Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act last year, which included a requirement that the agency start the process of integrating drones into the National Airspace system through a test-site program. The FAA plans to authorize six separate test sites for drones in the U.S. Mindful of the growing public interest in the civil-liberties implications of domestic aerial surveillance, the FAA recently released proposed privacy requirements for operators of these sites. However, the FAA's proposal falls short of truly protecting privacy for members of the general public who may be caught by the drones' surveillance cameras during test flights.

In the comments submitted today, EFF says:

1. The FAA should develop a model privacy policy and provide it to test-site operators.
2. Test-site operators should be required to report the surveillance and data-capturing capabilities of each drone.
3. Test-site operators should measure the surveillance capabilities and limits for each drone.
4. The FAA should not limit its privacy-protecting regulations to the test-site program but should extend them across its entire drone authorization process.
5. The public must have meaningful access to the wealth of drone data collected by the FAA.

"We're looking for specificity and transparency," Lynch said. "Testing sites should not only disclose what data they plan to collect, but what kind of data these drones are capable of collecting. And the public should have access to that information."

For the full comments submitted to the FAA:

https://www.eff.org/document/effs-comments-faa

For more information about EFF's work on drones:

https://www.eff.org/foia/faa-drone-authorizations

 

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