West Virginia Senator proposes UAS Privacy Act

By Emily Aasand | December 22, 2014

Senator John Rockefeller IV, D-West Virginia, has released the proposed unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) Privacy Act of 2014 to address privacy issues associated with UAS. The act would require commercial operators of UAS to adopt and adhere to privacy policies with regard to the collection and use of personal information.

“This bill addresses my concern that the rapidly increasing use of commercial drones will compromise the privacy of American consumers unless safeguards are put in place,” said Rockefeller. “Earlier this year, I held a hearing in the Commerce Committee on the emergence of UAS, and, while their use is rapidly increasing and holds great promise for American businesses and consumers, they also pose a significant privacy risk if we do not deal with such matters up front. This bill attempts to do just that. We need to address privacy concerns before it’s too late.”

The proposed legislation would prohibit private companies from conducting surveillance on individuals without their explicit prior consent. The bill also directs the Federal Trade Commission, along with the Department of Transportation, to promote rules and guidelines on UAS privacy policies, including the legal obligations of model UAS operators who purchase their UAS on the retail market. Rockefeller says that the bill would be enforced by the FTC and state Attorneys General.

The Privacy Act would require civilian operators of UAS to establish a privacy policy to be posted on a public website hosted by the FTC which would include: information about circumstances under which the UAS would be operated, the specific purposes for which images, data and other identifying information would be collected, the measures to be taken to anonymize and aggregate such information unless prior express consent of the individual was obtained, and contact information for an individual to revoke their consent or to obtain copies of collected information.

It would also:

- Provide a private right of action for persons who suffer physical harm or an invasion of privacy resulting from violation of this Act.

- Direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology to conduct a study of lightweight, low-cost technologies capable of transmitting identification information from an unmanned aircraft.

- Require NIST to develop standard test methods assessing the capabilities of the remote identification transmission technologies, based on their study results.

- Require DOT to develop remote identification transmission regulations for manufacture and operation of small UAS.

- Direct DOT to publish voluntary model aircraft guidelines for remote identification transmission.

- Grand the FTC authority to revise previous regulations on privacy policies to include remote identification transmission provisions.