For the past several years, California’s Legislature has actively sought to regulate unmanned aerial systems, including, but not only, through privacy-related legislation.. In the 2014 session, one bill passed and was signed by Governor Brown. It bans the use of UAS to capture images or record voices of people without their permission, and is widely regarded as an anti-paparazzi law, aimed at protecting the many celebrities – and their children – in California’s entertainment industry. However, the wording of the bill more broadly protects individuals’ privacy from visual or audio recording in a manner that is “offensive to a reasonable person … under circumstances in which the [person] had a reasonable expectation of privacy” if the recording could not have been made without either trespassing or using special equipment. The bill is codified at California Civil Code section 1708.8. In the 2015 session, the California Legislature introduced five more bills, covering a range of issues.
On Monday, August 3, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration kicked off the multistakeholder process to develop best practices for commercial and private unmanned aircraft systems use. As we previously reported, the NTIA action follows the White House’s February 15, 2015, Presidential Memorandum directing NTIA to lead private sector groups toward the creation of commercial UAS standards and the NTIA’s request for comments on privacy, transparency, and accountability issues related to the use of UAS.
Across the country, we’re in the midst of “Unmanned Aircraft Systems ever” – 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.
On 29 March, the Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data published a guidance note that supplements previous guidance on the use of closed circuit television systems and for the first time addresses the increasing use of unmanned aircraft systems. The Commissioner’s guidance is the first significant regulatory engagement on the use of UAS by a Hong Kong regulator.
On February 15, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum on safeguarding privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties in the domestic use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The memorandum launches a multi-stakeholder process to establish voluntary baseline privacy standards for commercial use of UAS and establishes principles that will govern the federal government’s use of UAS.
Over the next five years in the United States, thousands of drones are expected to be deployed for an array of commercial and governmental purposes. This prospect has captured the public’s imagination, and there are concerns about the privacy implications and whether new laws and regulations are needed. We here provide an overview of existing privacy requirements for Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) operating in the United States, describe new privacy proposals, and outline three scenarios that, depending on decisions by policymakers, could govern the privacy requirements for the commercial use of UAS for years to come.