Markey: FAA drone plan 'falls far short'

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan for protecting the privacy of Americans with increased drone use “falls far short” of what is necessary.

The FAA released a “roadmap” for its consideration of increasing the use of non-military drones on Thursday that the agency said included privacy protections for sites that will be selected to conduct testing of the devices.

Markey said the agency’s plan did not go far enough to protect citizens from the possibility of having their privacy invaded by increased drone use.

“The FAA’s plan falls far short of putting in place the necessary privacy protections for the commercialization of drone use in U.S. airspace,” he said in a statement.

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“This disregard for the need for strong and comprehensive privacy safeguards underscores why we must pass federal legislation to protect innocent individuals from expanded use of commercial and government drones,” Markey continued. “My legislation, the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act, requires transparency on the domestic use of drones and adds privacy protections that ensure this technology cannot and will not be used to spy on Americans. I look forward to working with my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to pass this important legislation to ensure the privacy of Americans is protected in this new age of expanded drone use.”

Markey’s bill would require law enforcement agencies to acquire warrants before they use drones to conduct surveillance. 

He said that it would be better to have a national standard for privacy protection than a piecemeal approach at specified drone testing sites.

“While the FAA is right to require privacy plans for drone operations, a patchwork of plans without a federal law is simply not enough to ensure the strongest safeguards are in place before tens of thousands of drones take to the skies,” Markey said. “A state-by-state plan makes no sense. Protecting Americans’ privacy from drones should not be dependent on the drone’s flight path.”

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a speech on Thursday that the FAA’s drone roadmap “requires operators to comply with all local, state and federal laws concerning privacy and civil liberties.

“We’re requiring the test site operators to create a privacy policy that is available to the public,” he said. And they must require anyone operating unmanned aircraft at the test sites to have a written plan for how they will use and retain any test data acquired.”

The FAA chief added that other federal agencies were also working to make sure that increased drone use does not infringe on anyone’s privacy.

“On a broader level, agencies across the government are coming together to work on privacy issues that may arise with the increasing use of unmanned aircraft beyond these test sites,” Huerta said.