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An Important Step Forward in the UAS Privacy Debate: NTIA Announces First Stakeholder Meeting

shutterstock_149083385Across the country, we’re in the midst of “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) fever” – industries from media, agriculture and energy to insurance, real estate and construction are seeking FAA approvals to fly UAS here in the United States. UAS technology has improved at a rapid pace, and offer a vast array of safety and efficiency benefits to companies for a wide variety of uses.

But while the benefits from commercial uses of UAS are great, many have also been vocal with their privacy concerns. It may very well be that for industry to succeed, various stakeholders will need to engage in a national conversation surrounding these issues.

To this end, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) announced this week that on August 3, 2015 it will convene the first of a series of meetings to develop best practices related to privacy, transparency, and accountability of UAS. The agency expects this process to bring together a wide array of stakeholders from industry, civil society, and academia. As it has in other multistakeholder processes involving mobile apps and facial recognition, the NTIA will act as a neutral convener, allowing the participating parties to drive the discussion and determine the content of the recommendations.

We have been actively monitoring the Administration’s efforts on UAS. Earlier this year, we reported that the NTIA asked for public comments on how to structure a multistakeholder process for UAS. The agency received over 50 comments that reflect various ideas on UAS best practices. Comments included suggested consideration of the Fair Information Practice Principles, license plate-type identification requirements for UAS, and suggestions that any standards be flexible and high-level to ensure the continued commercial growth of the UAS sector. These and other suggestions likely will be a starting point for the multistakeholder group’s initial meetings.

The August 3 meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for 1:00-5:00 p.m. at the Boardroom of the American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006. The meeting will be webcast and can be attended by phone as well. NTIA will host additional meetings on September 24, 2015, October 21, 2015; and November 20, 2015 during the same timeframe and at the same location.

What do you think? Do you believe UAS present unique privacy challenges? What policy recommendations do you believe the multistakeholder group should consider? Engage with our UAS Practice Group on these issues. Tweet @Leelellman with your thoughts – we’d love to hear from you.

Lisa Ellman, Partner in our Washington, D.C. office, Timothy Tobin, Partner in our Washington, D.C. office, and Jared Bomberg, Associate in our Washington, D.C. office contributed to this post.