Drones are a uniquely transformative technology in the commercial and private sectors. The assimilation of this technology into everyday life, however, raises concerns for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.

Seeking to promote the responsible use of drone technology in a way that does not diminish rights and freedoms, President Obama, on February 15, 2015, issued the Presidential Memorandum, “Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”

That memo directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) to establish a multi-stakeholder engagement process—including stakeholders from the private sector—to develop and communicate Best Practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private drone use in the National Airspace System. And so, on May 18, 2016, the stakeholders came to consensus and issued a document on Best Practices for privacy and other issues surrounding drone use.

At its core, the Best Practices call for drone users to notify other individuals of drone use and data collecting activities; practice caution when it comes to collecting and storing the data of specific individuals; restrict use and sharing of that data; implement measures to ensure security of covered data; and comply with laws on the use of drones.

These Best Practices are at present voluntary, however, they may end up as rules that commercial and non-commercial drone operators will have to follow in the future. Indeed, the U.S. Senate has asked the NTIA for a set of privacy guidelines that could serve as the basis for further federal legislation.

With all the news stories about irresponsible individuals using drones for illegal activities or violating people’s privacy, the existence of these Best Practices could be legal fodder for anyone who wants to prosecute you or your company for drone activities. Do yourself or your company a favor, take the initiative and start applying these guidelines today.

Been waiting for one of the law firms specializing in drones to come out with some commentary. This is a very conservative approach that recognizes that once voluntary guidelines like this are published – even though they are not binding – some zealous attorney may use them to make a suit out of. Thus, the advice to start figuring this out today.
Frankly safeguarding covered data is a major challenge for every business and agency. IMO, having clearly described SOPs to manage and secure data will soon be as important to getting cover for cyber risks as operational SOPs are for getting a 333 and cover for liability.
UPDATE In a new blog post, Fox Rothschild just issued what they describe as a “list of guidelines for neighborly drone use” as an Appendix to the article.



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