Welch pushes drone privacy protections

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced bicameral legislation Wednesday to regulate the use of commercial and government drones.

If enacted, the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act would impose privacy protections regarding the data drones could collect. Warrants would be required for law enforcement purposes, and the legislation would also set up an enforcement and licensing structure for the use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs.

Specifically, the legislation would require the Federal Aviation Administration to only approve drone licenses to applicants who provide specific details about what, if any, data will be collected.

Applicants would also have to disclose whether or not they planned to sell information to third parties.

Peter Welch

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch. File photo Kristopher Radder/Reformer Staff

The Welch-Markey legislation would also create public disclosure requirements, including the location, timing and ownership of drones operating in domestic airspace. The FAA would be required to create a website detailing all of the approved licenses, as well as information detailing any security breaches by license holders.

“As the presence of drones in our airspace becomes more commonplace, Americans are rightly growing concerned about their privacy,” Welch said in a statement Saturday. “Drones are a valuable tool for commerce, law enforcement, and public safety as well as a fun hobby. Our statutes must be updated to reflect the emergence of this soon-to-be ubiquitous technology to ensure privacy and transparency in their operation and use.”

Welch and Markey introduced similar legislation in 2015, but it failed to gain broad bipartisan support.

“Drones flying overhead could collect very sensitive and personally identifiable information about millions of Americans, but right now, we don’t have sufficient safeguards in place to protect our privacy,” Markey said Wednesday. “The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act requires transparency in domestic drone use and adds privacy protections that ensure this technology cannot and will not be used to spy on Americans.”

The FAA issued some regulations over the use of small drones last summer, but they aren’t comprehensive and the panel that drafted them included a number of representatives from the drone industry.

The current regulations don’t touch much on privacy concerns, though one rule does stipulate that a drone cannot operate above a person not associated with the flight.

Another provision in the FAA rules requires that drones must be kept within the sight of the operator at all times. This rule effectively halted the use of drones for commercial deliveries.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 2.7 million drones will be purchased each year in America by 2020. In 2016, over 670,000 drones were registered with the FAA.

Jasper Craven

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