Move would ground domestic drones over privacy concerns

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Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) moved Thursday to prohibit the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from approving the use of non-military drones unless the agency takes steps to protect U.S. residents' privacy.

Markey's funding bill amendment would require the FAA to add a data collection mechanism to its application process for commercial drone use that specifies "who will operate the drone, where the drone will be flown, what kind of data will be collected" and what will happen to the information afterwards.

Markey said that it was important to place a privacy check on commercial drones before their use becomes more widespread.

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"We need to build in strong personal privacy protections and public transparency measures before commercial drones take off, which is exactly what my amendment will do," Markey said in a statement. "This will allow the drone marketplace to evolve and mature, while at the same time we protect people’s privacy.”

The amendment would also require law enforcement agencies to explain "how they will minimize the collection and retention of data unrelated to the investigation of a crime." The FAA would also be required to create a public website for listing its approved drone licenses.

Markey's amendment is attached to a broad funding bill for the departments of Commerce and Justice.

The FAA is under pressure to approve the use of commercial drones quickly.

Congress has required the agency to develop a plan for boosting the use of drones in the U.S. by 2015, and online companies like Amazon are clamoring for the availability to use drones to speed up delivery times.

The agency has been testing the use of drones at several controlled sites across the country. The FAA has shut down drone operations in the meantime by groups as varied as an Internet beer company and the Washington Nationals baseball team in recent months.

The technology originally was sought by police and other law enforcement groups. It has drawn criticism from privacy advocates like Markey who have raised concerns about increased surveillance, however.