Leaders of innovation constantly challenge the federal government to maintain pace with the rapidly developing demands of emerging technologies. A nascent area of development that has recently garnered policy and regulatory interest surrounds machines that defy gravity — drones. As previously discussed on DisCo, drone use policies have been nebulous, with the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ban on commercial use and the hovering possibility that production and sale would move overseas due to outdated and tenuous laws. Recently, regulatory agencies have shifted their views towards recreational and commercial drone use, enabling innovation to flourish under the nation’s airspace.
Last month the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released voluntary Best Practices for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), focusing on privacy, transparency, and accountability. These guidelines stem from a presidential memorandum last year requesting a policy-by-design approach to address issues related to the private and commercial use of UAS. Shortly thereafter, the FAA announced Rule 107, which regulates the operation of routine commercial drones.
NTIA’s best practices are “intended to encourage positive conduct that complements legal compliance” in an effort to support active growth within industries. The main points, containing similar language to two legislative bills introduced in 2013, include provisions that encourage UAS operators to “inform affected persons of UAS use and the collection of data; take care in the collection and storage of information that identifies a particular person; limit the use and sharing of such data; secure data; and monitor and comply with the law as it evolves.” The major exception stated in the best practices is for news reporters and newsgathering organizations. The public benefit of reporters’ First Amendment rights is seen as too valuable to restrict the capture, storage, retention, and use of data or images in public spaces via UAS.
These voluntary best practices and new FAA regulations are small steps towards shaping the legal landscape for new technology, and generally speaking, show that regulators are receptive to the exploration of drone technology in the private sector. This responsiveness encourages further conversations on the policy questions that remain in the jetstream that relate to data and privacy.