By Rani Gupta

More than 50 commenters have offered their thoughts on privacy and transparency issues regarding non-government use of unmanned aircraft systems, better known as drones or UAS.

The comments responded to a request by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.  As we previously reported, the NTIA is planning a multi-stakeholder process to formulate best practices for drone-related privacy, transparency, and accountability issues.  That process was spurred by a White House memorandum calling for further study of these issues as the Federal Aviation Administration issued a proposal to allow the limited commercial use of drones.

The NTIA request drew interest from a broad range of groups, reflecting the many uses of drones.  Companies use drones for activities such as covering news events, investigating insurance claims, improving farming outcomes, and creating detailed real-estate listings for far-away buyers.

Many organizations opined that privacy-related best practices are unnecessary in light of existing state laws imposing liability for invasions of privacy, trespassing, and “peeping toms.”  They also encouraged the NTIA to consider drone users’ First Amendment rights and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence in crafting privacy guidelines.

Others feared existing laws are insufficient, expressing fears about drones being used for long-term surveillance and aggregation of personal identifying information.  To address these concerns, commenters suggested measures such as “no fly” zones that would allow people to opt out of having drones fly over their property, restrictions on how long companies can retain identifying information collected from drones, and limits on pairing drones with automated identification technology such as facial recognition software and license plate readers.

Interested parties also suggested various transparency and accountability measures, such as requiring markings on drones, encouraging companies to post online notices detailing how they use drones, and creating a registry of drone users.  However, others worried that a centralized online registry could prove invasive to drone operators, particularly individual hobbyists.

The comments are available here.