Drone Privacy Advocates Lose Round in D.C. Circuit

     (CN) — The D.C. Circuit dismissed an advocacy group’s lawsuit seeking to compel the creation of federal privacy rules for commercial drones.
     The Electronic Privacy Information Center petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration in 2012 to write privacy-specific drone regulations.
     The FAA waited 33 months to dismiss the petition, giving the center 60 days to file an appeal. The non-profit missed this deadline, and filed its petition 125 days later.
     The D.C. Circuit was not convinced by the center’s excuses for its tardiness.
     “Regarding ‘reasonable grounds for delay,’ EPIC alleges that the FAA letter, if final, is at least ‘misleading,” Judge Karen Henderson said, writing for the three-judge panel.
     But it is center’s fault for “assume[ing] the letter did not finally dismiss its petition; instead, it should have assumed the opposite and filed protectively for judicial review within 60 days,” the court ruled.
     The center’s staff attorney Jeramie Scott told Courthouse News, “The reason we brought this suit at the time we did is because when the FAA released its notice of proposed rulemaking, they stated explicitly in it that they were not going to address privacy.
     “From our perspective that was a denial as to our previous petition because they had sent us a letter months before saying they weren’t going to do a separate rulemaking, but that they were going to consider privacy in the context of their overall drone ruling. So when they changed course we decided to file suit,” Scott explained.
     He says the center would like to see “some baseline privacy protection in terms of transparency in letting people know technical and data collection capabilities, how the data is used and who its shared with, and some restrictions on data that can be collected.”
     In a related case, the center won the release yesterday of November 2015 meeting minutes of the FAA drone task force, which included industry groups such as GoogleX and Amazon, but no consumer or privacy advocates.
     The minutes state, “Current state of non-regulation negatively affects the public perception of drones. There is no regulatory recourse for anyone who is negatively affected by a small UAV [drones].”
     The task force debated how drones should be registered to their owners, and whether purchasers of a drone should be required to register at the time of sale.
     “The Industry Co-Chair stated that we should trust the majority of the public to be good operators and have no criminal intent,” the minutes say.
     The FAA announced registration rules in December last year, requiring any drone weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds to be registered if they are to be flown outdoors.
     On May 4, 2016, the FAA announced a new Drone Advisory Committee to be led by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Other members have not yet been appointed, but the committee aims to include a wide variety of industry and research interests.
     Scott told Courthouse News, “The previous committee they had, the drone task force, didn’t have any privacy advocates on it, so we would hope going forward that they’ve taken the privacy implications of drones in national airspace seriously.”

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