Drones Flying Around and Your Privacy Rights
Regulators and lawmakers at every level of government are coming face to face with the battle over drone user rights and the right to privacy. This already thorny issue gets even hotter with high profile celebrities and political figures constantly being abused by drone-wielding paparazzi and reporters.
Add the peeping tom types and daredevils to the mix and it becomes difficult to debate the issue objectively. It could be images of your wife or daughter showering suddenly appearing on the internet or it could be the plane you are in getting buzzed by a careless thrill seeker with a drone.
Is your privacy protected from aerial video voyeurism or not? This is a question looming. Whether the answer is “yay” or “nay”, below is a look at the drone industry in America, federal laws and regulations in effect right now, and some potential legislation to protect your privacy from aerial video voyeurism.
Who Regulates Drones?
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles and are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Where, how, and when drones may be flown is carefully spelled out in Part 107 of the FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule. To pilot a drone, an individual must pass an examination and become certified.
Drones are Big Business
The unmanned aerial vehicle industry is growing quickly and represents a significant section of the American manufacturing sector. A market research report published on IbisWorld shows industry revenues of over $4 billion in 2017. Being the hottest birthday and holiday gift item of the season, drones are flooding into shops, big box stores, and online sales portals such as Amazon.
Research conducted by Gartner, market research specialists, estimated the number of consumer drones in the United States for 2017 to be 2.8 million. This number is rising fast, with some being used by photography firms, real estate firms, and legitimate news organizations. Others are in use by police and fire departments, but most of these small flying camera platforms are being sold for private use.
Regulators struggle to find the balance between protecting the right to privacy and punishing abuse without undue damage to what is a growing segment of the economy.
Existing Federal Regulations
The FAA reports that over 100,000 individuals now have certification to operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). These individuals must undergo a training regimen and pass a test to attain a Remote Pilot’s License before they can legally operate a drone. Drones must be registered and users of every drone under 55 pounds must abide by the regulations set forth in the FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107).
Regarding drone surveillance activities, an important excerpt from Part 107 states the following: “Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.”
The rules governing most actions involving the use of unmanned aerial vehicles specify where, how, and when a licensed operator may fly a drone. The real issue not addressed by current regulations is the status of the airspace over private property below 500 feet altitude.
A bill introduced by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) provides hope for better regulatory protection. The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act seeks to limit the data a drone can legally collect and institute similar disclosure and warrant policies (for law enforcement using drones.) Industry experts insist that existing regulations are enough and that new rules could impair drone operators’ First Amendment rights. So, the debate continues while the fact remains concerning drone overflights and video voyeurism, which put your right to privacy literally, up in the air. But, hey, at least there are rules in place and safety tips to help one fly a drone safely in the national airspace. So, that’s a start.