Critical Read

Drones and privacy: Rejecting regulation

Shutterstock image: hover drone.

Author Gregory McNeil writes that Congress "should reject alarmist calls" for tight regulation of unmanned aerial vehicle technology.

What: "Drones and Aerial Surveillance: Considerations for Legislators," by Gregory McNeil, a report from the Brookings Institution’s Project on Civilian Robots.

Why: The use of emerging unmanned aerial vehicle technology in domestic airspace has been raising privacy concerns, along with the usual accompanying calls for heavier regulation aimed at the technology by privacy advocates.

The study suggests that a custom-tailored regulatory approach might not be the best solution.

Instead, the study supports using a property rights approach, in which landowners could exclude aircraft, people and other objects from the ground up to 350 above the surface of their land, as a more effective and smarter solution. Legislators, it said, might also consider simple, duration-based surveillance legislation to limit the aggregate amount of time the government may conduct surveillance on a specific individual, as well as possibly requiring data retention procedures that require qualified levels of protection for stored data.

Following privacy advocates' approach of requiring detailed warrants and other court-ordered protections can lead to situations where drones are excluded from common sense, public-safety-minded applications. fly overs of large sporting events, an application that drones might be effective in, could be abandoned because law enforcement has to jump through too many hoops.

Verbatim: "In many cases, this technology-centric approach creates perverse results, allowing the use of extremely sophisticated pervasive surveillance technologies from manned aircraft, while disallowing benign uses of drones for mundane tasks like accident and crime scene documentation, or monitoring of industrial pollution and other environmental harms."

"Legislators should reject alarmist calls that suggest we are on the verge of an Orwellian police state."

Full report: Read the full study here.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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