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Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

Ensuring Privacy in the New Domestic Drone Test Program

Yesterday, CDT submitted comments to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding a program that the FAA will soon establish to collect information from Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. The FAA plans to integrate UASs into American airspace by 2015; to do so, it must collect data from controlled test sites to better understand UAS safety and privacy implications.

In our comments, we highlight the importance of ensuring that both test site operators and drone operators include protections grounded in Fair Information Practices in privacy policies, including transparency, purpose specification, and use limitation. We also suggest the use of “Data Collection Statements” (DCS) for drone operators, which would serve as a hybrid notice combining the elements of a privacy policy and a privacy impact assessment. Operators would need file a DCS as a condition of licensure from the FAA. Each DCS would be made publicly available so that individuals present in the test sites could determine the operations and capabilities of drones operating in those areas. We also discuss possible sanctions and limitations on use that should arise when an operator deviates from its DCS.

Additionally, our comments highlight some of our recent work on the use of drones domestically. We emphasize the importance of using identification signals to distinguish between individual drones in test sites (following on our recent discussion of a possible “license plate” for drones). We also highlight the importance of data minimization, and propose specific limits that respect free expression rights. As Congress addresses the use of drones domestically via proposed legislation, the policy issues of privacy and free speech will need to be considered in order to adequately protect individual privacy and free expression rights. CDT looks forward to further engagement on the issues of domestic use of drones as the FAA and other governmental entities grapple with the complex issues that such technologies raise.