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Updated Laws And Protections Needed Regarding Drone Privacy

Image of a drone or unmanned aircraft Consumer Reports explored the issues with drone privacy: what privacy protections consumers have, if any, and who enforces them. A 70-year-old lawsuit involving a farmer in North Carolina has now taken on new importance:

"The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1946. And one result of United States v. Causby was that the Court set the limits of private airspace: If you own a house, your property rights extend 83 feet up into the air... the 70-year-old ruling has new importance in the age of drones. It remains the only clear federal statement of law on how far above the ground your property ends..."

Basically, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for setting rules and enforcement. Drones (also referred to as unmanned aircraft) have many valid uses, including faster, easier safety inspections of infrastructure, such as bridges, residential roofs, towers, and stacks; plus commercial package delivery. Thankfully, drone pilots have been required to register with the FAA since December.

To improve things, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a federal lawsuit, to try to force the FAA to set rules protecting citizens from privacy intrusions by drones:

"... EPIC wants the FAA to make it easy for citizens to find out whether drones flying overhead have surveillance capabilities. The group also wants to protect the privacy rights of drone pilots..."

While some states have "paparazzi" laws that apply when photos or video are taken, improvements are needed to help consumers distinguish between drones flying overhead versus drones performing unauthorized recording:

"... existing nuisance and invasion-of-privacy statutes would apply to drone owners. If you could prove you were being harassed by a drone flying over your house, or even that one was spying on you from afar, you might have a case against the drone operator. But proof is difficult to obtain... and not everyone agrees on how to define harassment."

Other legislative efforts:

"A law proposed by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act, would require the agency to ensure baseline privacy and transparency safeguards, which would apply to both private drone operators and law enforcement. The ACLU, which supports the Markey bill, argued as far back as 2011 that a lack of oversight could lead to excessive surveillance by law enforcement using drones."

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