Bill filed in Senate to boost drone privacy

Bill filed in Senate to boost drone privacy
© Getty Images

The outgoing chairman of the Senate committee that oversees transportation issues has filed a bill to protect U.S. residents’ privacy if nonmilitary drone use is drastically increased in coming years as expected.  

Congress has required the Federal Aviation Administration to issue rules for allowing more commercial drone use in the U.S. by next year, but critics have raised concerns about the possibility of the unmanned aircrafts being used for surveillance that would invade citizens’ privacy. 

Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.), who is retiring at the end of the year, said Friday that he was filing legislation to implement drone privacy protection before he leaves office at the end of the year. 


“This bill addresses my concern that the rapidly increasing use of commercial drones will compromise the privacy of American consumers unless safeguards are put in place,” Rockefeller said in a statement. 

“Earlier this year, I held a hearing in the Commerce Committee on the emergence of [drones] and, while their use is rapidly increasing and holds great promise for American businesses and consumers, they also pose a significant privacy risk if we do not deal with such matters up front. This bill attempts to do just that. We need to address privacy concerns before it’s too late.”

Rockefeller said his legislation, which has been dubbed the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Privacy Act of 2014, would “prohibit private companies from conducting surveillance on individuals without their explicit prior consent.” 

Rockefeller’s office said Friday the drone protection measure would also direct “the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in consultation with the Department of Transportation (DOT), to promote rules and guidelines on [drone] privacy policies, including the legal obligations of model UAS operators who purchase their UAS on the retail market.” 

The FAA has been facing increased pressure to approve a rapid expansion of nonmilitary drone use. Congress has agency until September 2015 to finalize new rules for the unmanned aircraft. 

The FAA has been testing the interaction between drones and other types of commercial and private airplanes at multiple sites across the country. 

The pressure on the FAA to quickly approve drones is being ramped up in part because online companies, such as Amazon, have said they could be used to speed up delivery times. 

Police and other law enforcement groups are also seeking approval to use the technology, and the FAA has also investigated several drone incidents that occurred in conjunction with college and professional sporting events.

The potential for increased use of drones has drawn criticism from privacy advocates, who have raised concerns about surveillance that Rockefeller's legislation is intended to address.

The deadline from Congress for the FAA to issue a ruling on drones was included in the funding bill that was approved for the agency in 2012.