Attorney questions organization's UAS privacy lawsuit against FAA

By Patrick C. Miller | April 09, 2015

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over its failure to establish privacy rules for commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) which the organization claims are mandated by Congress.

The lawsuit was filed March 31 in the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit against FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

However, Jonathan Rupprecht, an aviation attorney, commercial pilot and flight instructor in West Palm Beach, Florida, who specializes in UAS law, questions the rationale behind EPIC’s lawsuit.

“A pervert with a drone is just like the peeping Tom on foot,” he said. “The technology used in violating people’s privacy should not cause a spillover to regulating the whole industry or put obligations on the FAA,” Rupprecht said. “I don’t want the FAA regulating privacy.”

EPIC is asking the court to review the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for small UAS issued in February. The organization argues that the FAA’s proposed sUAS rules “failed to establish privacy rules for commercial drones as mandated by Congress” in the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act.

Citing the U.S. legal code defining the FAA’s responsibilities, Rupprecht said, “The FAA’s job is to ‘encourage the development of civil aeronautics and safety of air commerce in and outside the United States.’”

He also noted that in the section of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 covering UAS, the word "privacy" isn't even mentioned.

Rupprecht believes the FAA isn’t the agency that should be handling privacy issues related to UAS technology. He also noted that Pres. Barack Obama has issued a memorandum creating a process led by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to address issues related to UAS privacy, accountability and transparency.

“I think this would be the perfect place for EPIC to present its case,” Rupprecht said. 

When it comes to protecting privacy, he said states are in the best position to pass laws against UAS operators who violate privacy.

“Privacy issues should be left to the states,” Rupprecht said. “They can carefully tailor the laws to the needs of the state as opposed to accepting some blanket one-size-fits-all strategy at the federal level.”

Even when states have attempted to pass laws addressing privacy issues related to UAS, Rupprecht said they have sometimes resulted in unintended consequences that created larger issues.

“If states are having a hard time, why does anyone think it will be better at a federal level?” he asked.


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