Commercial Drones Herald Product Liability, Privacy Suits

January 16, 2014 – In The News

Scott L. Vernick was quoted in the Law360 article, "Commercial Drones Herald Product Liability, Privacy Suits." Full text can be found in the January 16, 2014, issue, but a synopsis is noted below.

As various industries gear up for the use of commercial drones and the Federal Aviation Administration paves the way for their widespread civilian use by 2015, attorneys are warning that drone makers and operators should focus on quality control and transparency to avoid product liability and privacy suits.

The plaintiffs bar will likely be active in bringing suits alleging invasion of privacy by drones, and courts will need to look closely at what drone operators do with information collected, according to Scott L. Vernick, a noted privacy attorney.

“There’s a general concern about drones peering into people’s back yards, windows and porches, and there are data retention issues over who is keeping the information, what they are doing with it and how they are securing it,” Vernick said. “If drones are commercialized and used by law enforcement, we will see suits asserting that people’s privacy rights have been infringed upon. … We could also see litigation over how companies handle the information.”

Plaintiffs alleging harm from intrusions of privacy and data breaches have struggled in the past to show they have standing and can prove damages, and those issues will likely remain principal obstacles in drone privacy cases, according to Vernick.

“If a drone picks up an image and the operator uses it for a commercial purpose to make money off of it, ... a plaintiff will be [closer] to maintaining a suit,” he said. “But the same kinds of challenges and the same kinds of deficiencies in privacy cases will be seen again in drone cases.”

Drone operators will also need to take a thorough look at exactly what information might be collected, how it might be stored and for how long, and whether that information will be shared with third parties, according to Vernick.

“If you ask the right questions up front … you can’t eliminate liability, but you certainly can reduce it,” he said.