The 'Privacy and Principle' issue of Dronin' On 10.27.18Hi all –

A home run in the bottom of the 18th to win it? Are you kidding me? In the immortal words of that great Dodger, Leo Durocher “What are we out at the park for except to win?”  Go Blue!

This week some solid thinking about UAS IPP by Jim Poss in Quo Vadis, continuing stories about ULC, DJI, Privacy & Principle and Quick Takes. Plus a good amount
of intrigue.


IPP map courtesy of Inside Unmanned Systems
IPP map courtesy of Inside Unmanned Systems

I am going to kick this issue off with a think piece by Jim Poss (Maj Gen USAF Ret) in Inside Unmanned Systems, Do We Need Drone Evolution or Devolution? (For more on where this all started I refer you to The Devo’lution issue  from a year ago today which covered the launch of UAS IPP.)

Which method will get commercial drones flying first? Waiting for the federal government to evolve workable drone rules or devolving federal authority to the states to see if the states can move faster?

After taking a well-aimed shot at PrecisionHawk for [shamelessly] selling the work they did under the Pathfinder program “A bit off topic, but shouldn’t that information be for everyone’s public benefit?” Poss moves on to UAS IPP. You might remember that in a recent article he said that he thought that:

The key question the IPP should answer is where does federal authority for drones end, and state/local/tribal authority begin?

Now he’s moved on:

The Integrated Pilot Program (IPP) is supposed to be researching how state, local, tribal and federal officials rules would work together to regulate small drones, but the program has already excluded local management of airspace, no matter
how low.

What if Congress voted to allow states to develop their own drone rules below
200 feet?

That would leave 200-400 feet for eventual FAA rulemaking, but give the states a chance to more swiftly enact viable drone rules. States that don’t want to opt in could remain under federal control.  

I believe several states have the expertise and motivation to create commercially viable drone rules that they could harmonize with other states quicker than the FAA will develop viable drone rules for nationwide operations.

He name-checks North Dakota, Alaska, Kansas and Mississippi; each of which has at minimum an FAA UAS Test Site, an ASSURE university program doing drone-related research and an IPP program.

Being a Major General and all, Poss comes ready to return fire:

I can hear the commercial drone lobby crying “patchwork laws!” as I write this. They fear states will create drone rules that vary wildly, forcing commercial drones to comply with 50 sets of state rules instead of just one set of federal rules. This is a valid concern, but if it’s clear the FAA won’t or can’t move quickly on workable small drone rules, wouldn’t it be better to put some faith in the reasonableness of our state law makers versus waiting years, maybe decades, for the FAA to unlock the industry?  

Did multiple state automotive rules prohibit the trucking industry? If Amazon, Walmart and Google can track the individual preferences of millions of customers, can’t they track 50 sets of drone rules? 

And then this:

States reliably harmonize laws when there is economic incentive to do so via the Uniform Law Commission. Indeed, the ULC has already drafted a “Drone Trespass” law that sets rules for flying low over private property that can be used as a cornerstone for state commercial drone rules. 

Which effortlessly brings me to the latest subject of industry scorn and distaste, the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) Tort Law Relating to Drones Act which will suck most of the air out of the first half of 2019.


screen grab – ULC web page

If you want to refresh your memory, take a look at the Bright Line issue which explains it in detail.

The core of the ULC’s argument is:

The ease of access to unmanned aircraft technology, the scale at which drones are already operating, and the low altitude airspace in which these aircraft must operate, all suggest that a uniform law for per se aerial trespass is necessary.

What you should know is that:

a) While highly regarded by some, the ULC is not an official anything. It is 300 members of the bar from the 50 states who take it upon themselves to write and propose legislation for uniform statutes. In this they can be understood to be

b) Once the ULC has done its work and ratified proposed legislation, it is up to each state legislature to decide if they want to adopt the proposed Act as written, modify it or ignore it.

The proposed Tort Law Relating to Drones Act creates a tort (a harm) for any UAS operator flying at 200’ AGL (or below) over private property without the express permission of the landowner. If you think that the patchwork quilt has the industry foaming at the mouth, this is a quilt on steroids.

In the Bright Line issue I wrote that:

The ULC Drones Act has the potential to disrupt current Part 107 operations within two years.

The one thing I can say about the ULC is that their workings are reasonably transparent. You can follow their progress on their web page here.

You will see that on October 1st, a News Media Coalition sent their comments to the ULC saying:

We are concerned that, if adopted… the draft Uniform Act would contradict generations of settled court rulings on privacy law, would be applied in contravention to the First Amendment to the US. Constitution, and would sow confusion in the community of journalists who are lawfully and safely using new aerial technologies for the public good.

On October 17 a group identified as Associations and Companies Representing Unmanned Aircraft Industry (10/17/18) sent their comments:

As discussed in more detail below, the Act is flawed and should not be adopted as it is currently drafted… A redlined version of the Act addressing these concerns is attached for your convenience.

WhiteFox Defense Technologies wrote an exceptionally thoughtful, far seeing comment to the ULC concluding:

We optimistically await the work of the Commission and others — including drone and counter-drone industry representatives — to craft a reasonable doctrine that threads the needle between the concerns of homeowners, drone pilots, potential drone fleet operators, and those with a significant stake in the final shape of the law. We believe that the current version of the bill falls short of this goal. 

An email from AUVSI raised some additional issues:

  1. In the original draft proposal that the ULC committee read in June, the proposal incorrectly implies that the DOT, the FAA and others were in support of it when, in fact, they are not.

In a letter to the ULC that is posted on the ULC website, the DOT and FAA made it clear that they do not concur. AUVSI continues: 

  1. The ULC has ignored attempts to correct these mischaracterizations and disregarded industry concerns when they were first raised in July.  

Apparently, the ULC agreed to clarify the issue, but the new draft makes no such changes. Finally, this one sets up my point – which is that we probably don’t need a law just yet.

  1. Section 373 of the recently enacted FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 directs the Comptroller General to ‘conduct a study on the relative roles of the Federal Government, State, local and Tribal governments in the regulation of low-altitude operations of unmanned aircraft systems’

Here’s my issue. I wrote that the 2018 Reauthorization reflects the experience we’ve gained since 2012 which enabled the Congress (and their little helpers) to define the problems that need to be solved.

This is the other way around.

No one knows if this is a problem in need of a solution – even the crudest of metrics like the number of trespasses resulting in police reports are unknown. And because they haven’t been written yet, no one knows what the regulations and CONOPS will be for delivery, utility inspections and the other kinds of commercial ventures that are most likely to operate over private property. Let’s just leave out public safety which clearly needs a hall pass.

Consider this week’s headline Uber Seeks New Executive to Make Drone Food Deliveries a Reality by 2021. Is this superhero a policy wonk or an ops guy? No doubt the headline will help Uber’s valuation… But based on the published rulemaking timetable, the FAA will not have addressed the issue by 2021.

The real question is, what’s the best way to actually do it? Is it really as simple as you can’t fly over Jim’s house whilst delivering to Sally’s? If that’s the case, how is Uber going to get to Jim? Should they be able to?

The ULC Drone working group is meeting in Detroit this weekend. In preparation for the meeting, the ULC issued a memo to the working committee stating that:

Comments from observers just before and soon after the Annual Meeting indicated unease and dissatisfaction with the per se trespass concept and encouraged the development of alternatives to the initial approach.

They go on to present two alternatives.

The first alternative to the 2018 Annual Meeting §301 text replaces the per se trespass rule for intrusions below 200 feet with a rebuttable presumption that operators who operate drones over land below the established ceiling are liable
for trespass.

The second one is already raising eyebrows about what many see as a conflict of interest. I’ve underlined the relevant bit to make it easy to find:

The second alternative leaves it to each state to set a specific flight ceiling and allows flight ceilings to vary by location within the state… The uniform aspect of this approach arises not from a ceiling that is maintained throughout the nation, but in the requirement that the state explicitly articulate the height under which an operator flying a drone will be liable for trespass. With this information in hand, the drone community can develop appropriate maps and technologies to allow for drone operation within the boundaries established by each state.

Greg McNeal, who serves as the “Reporter” for the group (a function on all ULC committees) is both a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Pepperdine University and a co-founder of AirMap. The Reporter role is typically passive, but a number of people have commented that McNeal is playing a particularly active role and is seen as a Subject Matter Expert by the rest of the group which can be characterized as severely lacking aviation experience.

In the InterDrone 2018 issue I wrote that:

The proposed ULC Drone Tort Law is going to be a contentious issue and one that the industry needs to pay close attention to. A nuanced, well-developed argument has been honed at AirMap. It was presented on the panel by Bill Goodwin, and later in a keynote and a panel by founders Greg McNeal and Ben Marcus about the need for a low altitude navigation system based on their “ACCESS” principles.”

Whack-A-Mole courtesy of KissPNG

If you wish to comment you may contact the committee. The final draft will be read to the entire ULC at their annual meeting in Anchorage next summer for their approval. If ratified, individual commissioners will then begin presenting the Act for consideration to their states. At that point, those opposed to the Act will have no recourse but to begin an expensive and uncertain game of Whack-A-Mole to stop the legislation on a state by state basis.

But back to AirMap and another terrific segue.


GEO 2.0 graphic courtesy of DJI

On Wednesday, sUASNews offered up DJI Drops AirMap and Increases Size of Airport No Fly Zones. This is really two stories rolled up in one juicy headline.

The story starts with the introduction of DJI GEO 2.0. As you can see in
the graphic:

The new system allows GEO to create detailed three-dimensional “bow tie” safety zones surrounding runway flight paths, and to use complex polygon shapes around other sensitive facilities, rather than just simple circles. These new restrictions better reflect the actual safety risk posed in those areas, while allowing more flights to the side of runways where risk is substantially lower.

Worth noting that:

DJI’s new geofencing also incorporates the principles of Section 384 of the recently-enacted U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act designating the final approach corridor to active runways at major airports to be “runway exclusion zones” for unauthorized drones.  

The release then continues: 

To obtain reliable geospatial information for the enhanced shapes in GEO 2.0, DJI has chosen a new data provider that can provide highly accurate details such as the exact locations of airport runways and facility boundaries. In North America, DJI will use data from PrecisionHawk, replacing DJI’s previous geospatial data provider AirMap.

Measured in UAS time, DJI has been an AirMap client forever. The switch to a new provider is a big deal. Most def an owch the way I score it.

As to the what’s and why’s, here’s the clue from the press release:

“DJI is pleased to partner with companies that support our vision of safe skies that are open to innovation,”  said DJI VP Brendan Schulman.

The last word goes to Malek Murison writing in

For AirMap the opportunity is clear: the more complexity in the airspace, the more money the company stands to make through simplifying that complexity.

Unsurprisingly, the position that skies above the U.S. should become trickier to navigate for drone professionals and enthusiasts is not one that DJI would share.

h/t to Diana Marina Cooper for seeing the opportunity and aligning the Hawk.


screen grab of Tim Cook in Brussels - click to go to video - courtesy BBC
screen grab of Tim Cook in Brussels – click to go to video – courtesy BBC

This week Apple CEO Tim Cook was in Brussels, making a keynote presentation to the 40th International Conference of Data Protection and
Privacy Commissioners

Tech Crunch headlined it as Apple’s Tim Cook Makes Blistering Attack on the Data Industrial Complex. Much of their story was dedicated to the comments of Europe’s data protection supervisor Giovanni Buttarelli.

TIME wrote ‘This Is Surveillance.’ Apple CEO Tim Cook Slams Tech Rivals Over Data Collection. The article includes what amount to rebuttals from Facebook
and Google.

BBC News gave the view from the other side of the pond, Tim Cook Blasts ‘Weaponisation’ of Personal Data and Praises GDPR. The article includes surprised and delighted reactions.

The Verge summed it up as Tim Cook Warns of ‘Data-Industrial Complex’ in Call for Comprehensive US Privacy Laws.

Cook, resplendent in a never before seen suit and absolutely on fire gave no quarter, unequivocally stating:

“Our own information — from the every day to the deeply personal — is being weaponized against us with military efficiency. These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded
and sold.

“We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance.”

Saluting the EU’s recent rollout of GDPR, Cook said: “We at Apple are in full support of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.”

In his view a US privacy law should be built on four pillars which we as an industry would do well to consider:

Data Minimization —companies should “challenge themselves” to de-identify customer data or not collect it in the first place.

Transparency —users should “always know” what data is being collected and what it is being collected for.

The Right to Access —it should be “easy” for users to get a copy of, correct and delete their personal data.

The Right to Security — saying “security is foundational to trust and all other privacy rights.”

To understand Cook’s sense of urgency, and to put the problem in perspective, consider this story in the MIT Technology Review, Amazon Is the Invisible Backbone Behind ICE’s Immigration Crackdown:

In 2017, an Intercept investigation found that ICM pulled together data from an array of federal and private law enforcement entities to create detailed profiles that were then used to track immigrants. That data could include a person’s immigration history, family relationships, personal connections, addresses, phone records, biometric traits, and other information.

Of course privacy is a multi-dimensional issue. Writing for dronebelow, Stefan Tasevski considers an article by Benjamin White in the University of Cincinnati Law Review, Clipped Wings: Domestic Drone Surveillance and the Limits of Due Process Protection which addresses government use of drones.

Tasevski summarizes saying:

According to the author [White], drones have a “unique threat to privacy” thanks to their advanced technological capabilities including facial, license plate and biometric recognition.

In White’s own words:

The public debate hinges on issues of privacy, liberty, security, and control. Although many states have passed some legislation concerning drones, the Federal Aviation Administration’s latest rules governing drones left many privacy questions unanswered.

The inchoate state of drone law requires a close look at what sort of judicial protections are likely, in lieu of unified federal regulation.


Heresy screenshot courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems

A bunch of interesting things that would otherwise remain in my bookmark folder. Let the headline be your guide.

Can the Pentagon Win the AI Arms Race? – is the US is in danger of falling behind?

US Navy Ceremony Marks 1st Dedicated UAS Test Squadron – finally

GA-ASI Heresy Software Controls Six MQ-9 Reapers from one Laptop – the ultimate video game

DARPA Seeks Proposals for Third Swarm Sprint – interesting program you don’t know about

Zala Demos Sat-Nav Signal Suppressing System for UAVs – creating the
denied environment

Against the Drones – excellent summary of the state of play

Insitu / FAA Complete First Type Certification Board Meeting for ScanEagle3 – here’s a game everyone knows how to play

EU Commission Launches European Network of U-Space Demonstrators – focus on the business case

Canada Opens Giant Drone Testing Area – wide open

Regulations Opening African Skies for Unmanned Aircraft, Connectivity, Tourism – new rules and regs with a focus on safety

Integrating UAVs into Existing Wireless Networks – using drones to
extend networks

The Secret to Making Green Tech Like Solar Panels Go Mainstream – lessons to be learned about adoption and acceptance.

Killian Rousseau, 14, from France, Wins 2018 FAI Drone Racing World Cup – bravo!

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter

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