UAS Stakeholders Reach Consensus on Privacy Best Practices

Last week, various UAS industry stakeholders reached consensus on voluntary best practices for conducting commercial and hobbyist UAS operations with privacy, transparency and accountability in mind. The industry-led multi-stakeholder process was coordinated through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which was directed to convene on the matter by a Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama on February 15, 2015.

The best practices include the following:

  • Making a reasonable effort to provide prior notice of UAS operations that intentionally collect personally identifiable information;
  • Developing a privacy policy that outlines the operator’s privacy and data security practices;
  • Avoiding using UAS for persistent collection of personally identifiable information without consent of the data subject or a compelling need;
  • Limiting the use and sharing of personally identifiable information collected using UAS; and
  • Implementing measures to safeguard personally identifiable information collected using UAS including administrative, technical and physical measures.

The best practices document is available here.

Perhaps the most critical takeaway is that the best practices are voluntary in nature – they are not intended to create a legal standard that operators would be held to. In fact, the document explicitly provides that the best practices should not serve as the basis for regulation. Stakeholders expressed legitimate concerns that lawmakers may look to the best practices to inform legislation. Doing so would be problematic in various respects, for instance if adherence to the practices was required by law, such legislation would single out UAS as opposed to treating UAS the same as comparable technologies – such as cell phones and cameras – that may be used to capture images in public space.

Another important takeaway is that the best practices do not apply to newsgatherers and news reporting organizations. The primary reason for this is that newsgathering and reporting is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Accordingly, newsgatherers and news reporting organizations will continue to operate UAS pursuant to federal and state laws and the ethical rules and standards of their organizations.

The stakeholders that support the best practices include: Amazon, AUVSI, Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Technology Association, CTIA, Future of Privacy Forum, New America’s Open Technology Institute, PrecisionHawk, X, Small UAV Coalition, Online Trust Association, News Media Coalition, Newspaper Association of America, National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Television Digital News Association, Digital Content Next, Software and Information Industry Association, and NetChoice. The next steps in the process will include integration of the best practices and education.