FAA’s Privacy Punt Leaves Drone Operators in the Dark

November 8, 2013 – In The News

Scott Vernick was quoted in the Law360 article, "FAA’s Privacy Punt Leaves Drone Operators in the Dark." Full text can be found in the November 8, 2013, issue, but a synopsis is noted below.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unveiled a plan to integrate commercial and recreational drones into the nation’s airspace by October 2015. But the agency avoided commentary on controversial matters of privacy related to the use of domestic drones, instead putting the burden on test site operators to develop privacy plans and on lawmakers to fill any gaps and offering little guidance to those wrestling with the data security and surveillance concerns.

“It seems as though the agency has punted on the privacy issues,” said noted privacy attorney Scott Vernick. “I wouldn't say that the FAA ignored the issue, but it didn't advance the discussion very much ... and has left operators without a uniform standard moving forward.”

The FAA cites the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) fair information practice principles as a possible framework for operators’ privacy policies.

The FTC’s willingness to pursue companies with misleading privacy policies or shaky data protections could extend to unmanned aircraft operators, according to Vernick.

“I could foresee a situation where operators will need to look at not only what state law requires but also at what the FTC is doing,” Vernick said. “Depending on how it develops, it could be that the FTC gets involved, if it feels that some commercial operators of unmanned aerial vehicles are violating privacy and data security safeguards by doing whatever they are doing.”