…the agency will not consider EPIC’s comments because, according to the agency, privacy issues “are beyond the scope of this rulemaking.”
Congress explicitly ordered the Transportation Department to conduct a public rulemaking to safely integrate drones into the national airspace. As EPIC’s petition described in detail, drones are equipped with increasingly sophisticated technology that gathers sensitive personal details, including location information and biometric information. A necessary component in the safe integration of drones is ensuring meaningful, effective privacy protections.
The FAA violated the law when it failed to issue and solicit public comments on proposed drone privacy regulations.
EPIC urged the FAA to “assess the privacy problems associated with the highly intrusive nature of drone aircraft, and the ability of operators to gain access to private areas and to track individuals over large distances.”
On June 28, 2016, the FAA denied EPIC’s petition. On this date, the FAA issued a final rule on the “Operation and Certification of Small” drones. The rule states that “privacy concerns have been raised regarding the integration of [drones] into the NAS,” but privacy issues “are beyond the scope of this rulemaking.”
Instead of a public notice and comment rulemaking, the FAA and Transportation Department will participate in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) “multistakeholder process aimed at developing privacy best practices for the commercial and private use of [drones].” The NTIA “multistakeholder process” will not produce any legal restrictions on the use of domestic drones for aerial surveillance nor establish any legal rights for individuals who are subject to drone surveillance in the United States.
The commonly used, polite description is that the FAA “punted.” In fact, this issue is too big for the FAA, to say nothing of being well outside its mandate which is the safety of the NAS. No idea why Congress thought that this was a good solution but then good thinking has not been a hallmark of that group in recent years…
The NTIA recommended best practices are vague at best and toothless in every regard. They are also remarkably favorable to drone operators and so not at all likely to satisfy anyone who is concerned about privacy.
So once again we are left to wait and see what happens.