Drones and privacy: Rejecting regulation

A new Brookings study backs a property-rights approach to the drone privacy problem.

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.

NEXT STORY: The promise of technology transfer

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