Lawmakers introduced bicameral legislation to promote transparency, privacy for commercial and government drone use


Washington (July 24, 2014) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) today called on the Obama administration to put in place strong, enforceable rules, not simply voluntary practices, to protect the privacy rights of Americans as it develops guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones. A news story today in The Politico reported that President Obama intends to issue an executive order on privacy and drone use, quoting a White House spokesman that “there is an inter-agency process underway” to address privacy issues. In November 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a “road map” for integrating drones into the national airspace that did not include federal privacy protections. The FAA has estimated that 7,500 drones will be flying in American skies in the next five years. 


“While we applaud your efforts to address this pressing national issue, we believe that the federal government should put in place strong, enforceable rules – not voluntary best practices – that protect the privacy rights of American citizens,” write the lawmakers in the letter. “Although we are confident that most drones users will serve as good actors and follow best practices, we worry about the worst offenders who will take the opportunity to act unrestricted and ignore any voluntary guidelines.”  


A copy of the letter can be found HERE.


Last year, Senator Markey and Rep. Welch introduced the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act, legislation that would to require transparency in the use of domestic drones and privacy protections for Americans. Specifically, the legislation would amend the FAA Modernization and Reform Act to:

  • Prohibit the FAA from issuing drone licenses unless the license application includes a data collection statement that explains who will operate the drone, where the drone will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how that data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties, and the period for which the information will be retained.
  • Require law enforcement agencies and their contractors and subcontractors to include an additional data minimization statement that explains how they will minimize the collection and retention of data unrelated to the investigation of a crime.
  • Require a warrant or extreme exigent circumstances for any surveillance involving drones by law enforcement.
  • Require the FAA to create a publicly available website that lists all approved licenses and includes the data collection and data minimization statements, any data security breaches suffered by a licensee, and the times and locations of drone flights.