NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Aviation Administration Proposes Unnecessary Privacy Regulations on Drone Test Sites

April 30, 2013

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, have begun the slow transition from the military sector to the commercial sector. As part of the mandate from Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is charged with safely integrating civil drones into the existing airspace. The FAA is now seeking applications for establishing six test ranges but has recently proposed new privacy guidelines that would stifle innovation, say Jerry Brito, Eli Dourado and Adam Thierer of the Mercatus Center.

  • As with any new technology, the public has been initially skeptical of this new technology but will likely adapt to it gradually as more than 10,000 drones enter the skies by 2020.
  • Drone research and development is decentralized, meaning that many developers, from small companies to industry behemoths, are testing new capabilities.
  • The FAA must find a balance between too many commercial restrictions, which will delay integration, and too few restrictions, which could pose safety risks.
  • Drones have potential applications in law enforcement, national security, agricultural and earth science.

The FAA has proposed new privacy requirements for test range operators to address concerns about drones infringing on individuals' privacy.

  • The FAA should refrain from making any guidelines on privacy because its expertise is solely in regulating aeronautics, not in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, an area in which numerous laws already govern privacy, property and peeping toms.
  • The fears about privacy infringements are also unsubstantiated, being based solely on hypothesized scenarios rather than actual events, the latter of which might require the courts, and not the FAA, to sort out.
  • The FAA should allow nongovernmental privacy protection mechanisms to develop instead of stifling the creation of market-based solutions or voluntary codes of conduct.

The proposed privacy rules are inappropriate for this stage of development because they require the prohibitively expense action of full disclosure to an individual who is inadvertently captured on camera. While the proposed privacy regulations are supposed to be implemented for test sites only, there is a risk that they could serve as a baseline for future legislation and rulemaking as full integration nears.

Source: Jerry Brito, Eli Dourado and Adam Thierer, "Federal Aviation Administration Unmanned Aircraft System Test Site Program," Mercatus Center, April 23, 2013.


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