FAA vows to address privacy concerns with drone flights

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a petition a year ago asking the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to include privacy protection guidance for the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). 

“The FAA recognizes that increasing the use of [drones] raises privacy concerns. The agency intends to address these issues through engagement and collaboration with the public,” said Kathryn B. Thomson, a chief counsel for the FAA, in a letter to EPIC President Marc Rotenberg. “While the expanded use of UAS presents great opportunities, it also presents significant challenges as UAS are inherently different from manned aircraft.”

FAA said it would develop six “test sites” for drones around the United States “taking into account geographic and climatic diversity, as well as the location of necessary ground infrastructure to support the sites, and research needs.”

Michael Toscano, the president and chief executive of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, lauded the FAA’s decision.

“Today’s announcement by the FAA is an important milestone on the path toward unlocking the potential of unmanned aircraft,” Toscano said in a statement. “Whether it is helping search and rescue teams, assisting in disaster response, or aiding scientific research, unmanned aircraft extend the human reach and allow us to accomplish dangerous and difficult tasks safely and efficiently.”

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act that President Obama signed last year required the agency to integrate unmanned aircraft into American airspace. The tests are a step toward that goal.