Privacy group sues feds over drone rules

Privacy group sues feds over drone rules
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A privacy group is suing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over its proposed rules for commercial drones. 

The lawsuit, from the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), alleges that the FAA failed to implement privacy protections for the anticipated rapid expansion in the use of nonmilitary drones. 

“In 2012, over 100 organizations, experts, and advocates joined EPIC in petitioning the FAA to establish privacy protections prior to the deployment of commercial drones in the United States,” the group said.

“In 2014, the FAA responded to EPIC's petition, claiming that drone privacy implications ‘did not raise an immediate safety concern.' Then last month the FAA announced rule-making on commercial drones and purposefully ignored privacy concerns, stating that privacy ‘issues are beyond the scope of this rule-making.’” 

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The lawsuit over the FAA’s rules was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on March 31.

The agency’s proposed rules define small drones as devices that weigh less than 55 pounds and require them to be operated at heights that are less than 500 feet and speeds that are less than 100 miles per hour.

The regulations also call for drone flights to be limited to daytime hours and conducted only by U.S. residents who are older than 17.

Drone operators are also prohibited under the FAA proposal from conducting flights that take the devices out of their line of vision, which was a big blow to companies, like Amazon, that had been touting the possibility of using the technology to conduct deliveries. 

Regulators later granted an exemption to Amazon to allow the company to continue its drone tests, although the company said the change still would not go far enough to make its delivery plans possible. 

The rules make drone operators responsible for avoiding collisions with manned aircraft that are in the same airspace as the devices, and prohibit drone flights that “fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.”

EPIC said the FAA’s rules do not sufficiently address privacy issues. 

“Drones are equipped with highly sophisticated surveillance technology that threatens personal privacy,” the privacy group said. “Drones' collection of personal information, including physical location, poses a public safety problem for millions of individuals.” 

Lawmakers have raised questions about drone privacy, and they have filed legislation to implement rules that would prohibit drones from being used by private companies for surveillance.