FAA Issues Privacy Rules for Drone Sites

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Amid heightened public tension over increased government intrusion into personal privacy, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued privacy requirements for U.S.-based drone test sites. Though some detractors question the agency's authority to determine privacy rules, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized the FAA for not providing more specifics on the new privacy rules, according to the group's press release in response to the action.
     The government plans to test unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, at six sites across the country as it integrates drones into the National Airspace System. Dozens of private entities are jockeying to be chosen as site operators, and will be subject to the privacy requirements the FAA maintains it is authorized to impose.
     Many of those commenting on the agency's February 2013 proposed rule questioned whether the FAA should be in the privacy regulating business at all.
     "Existing privacy laws are sufficient to cover the responsible use of [drones]. There already exist federal, state and other laws that protect privacy. In addition, tort law may also provide avenues of recourse for plaintiffs to protect their privacy rights," one commenter said.
     The FAA said, however, that setting privacy requirements advances its Congressional mandate to establish test sites to integrate drones into U.S. airspace by providing information on the impact of drone technology on privacy.
     The ACLU's legislative counsel, Christopher Calabrese, said the government has taken an "important step" by recognizing privacy issues, but that specific limits need to be set on how collected data is used.
     "It's crucial that as we move forward with drone use, those procedural protections are followed by concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored. Congress must also weigh in on areas outside of the FAA's authority, such as use by law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, which have the ability to use drones for invasive surveillance that must be kept in check," Calabrese said in the press release.
     Under the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, each drone test site operator must enter into an agreement with the FAA that lays out the terms and conditions of operation.
     Specifically, the test operators will be required to have privacy policies available to the public that are in compliance with federal, state and other privacy laws.
     The agreement also states that operators are subject to any related legislation that may be passed and that data transmitted to the FAA be limited to authorized data.
     Based on public comments, the FAA has included additional requirements that obligate operators to maintain a record of all drones operating at the site, to have a written plan for the use and retention of data collected by the drones, and to conduct an annual review of test site operations to verify compliance with privacy policies and to share that information in a public forum.