Senate committee

For almost a year, the Obama administration has tried to corral tech companies and consumer groups, hoping they can draft some basic privacy rules before a wave of new commercial drones are allowed to take to the skies. But the safeguards under discussion aren’t so much new rules as they are general, broad suggestions for companies to be on their best behavior — with little in the way of penalties.

“I definitely think that a lot of privacy advocates have been discouraged by how the previous two [administration-led] processes have gone,” said Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown University Law School’s Center for Privacy and Technology. “The fact is that the industry lobbyists who are blocking privacy legislation in Congress are the same industry lobbyists that go and block a reasonable, privacy protective result out of the negotiations.”

One key proposal from the Center for Democracy and Technology would ensure that drone operators agree to strong, explicit limits on the sort of data they collect and what they do with it.

On the other side, a proposal from the law firm Hogan Lovells would give drone operators broader latitude to operate everywhere from major public spaces like theme parks to the airspace right above a family’s backyard.

Some participants believe they’ll overcome their differences in due time. “Everyone in the group really understands the benefits of having these [best practices] for the industry,” said Lisa Ellman, who co-chairs the drone practice for Hogan Lovells.

The big guys are playing hard ball. They have a huge advantage over the rest of us. They know exactly what they want to do, and how they want to do it. Very easy to keep your eye of the ball and still miss with this crew.


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