recommended reading

Domestic drones put FAA in privacy hot seat

Heather Ainsworth/AP

Under a recently signed law, more remotely piloted aircraft soon could be flying the friendly skies, and it is unclear whether the Federal Aviation Administration is equipped to address the privacy concerns the move brings, panelists said during a think tank discussion Thursday.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which President Obama signed into law Feb. 14, requires the agency to permit expanded domestic use of First-Person View aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles.

Currently, FAA licenses the use of a limited number of drones within the United States -- more than 300, primarily for law enforcement and research purposes, according to a March 26 analysis of the new law by Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Under the new act, FAA has until Dec. 31, 2015, to develop and implement final standards for government drones in domestic airspace.

Traditionally associated with stealth military operations, drones would raise a host of additional opportunities and concerns in domestic airspace, participants in the Brookings Institution debate agreed. Before FAA can "open the sky to drones," privacy and oversight concerns should be addressed, Brookings nonresident senior fellow John Villasenor said.

"There's an enormous amount you can do with this stuff if the regulatory latitude is there to do it," event moderator and Brookings senior fellow Benjamin Wittes said.

Heritage Foundation visiting fellow Paul Rosenzweig pointed to the utility of drones in a government space, particularly within the Homeland Security Department, where they could help patrol the more remote stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border. Rosenzweig emphasized that the success of domestic drones in this and other potential fields, including humanitarian causes in the wake of natural disasters, would hinge on developing a proper oversight mechanism.

American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Catherine Crump expressed concern with domestic drone technology as it relates to law enforcement, saying such devices could grant the government additional power "to control and monitor citizens."

Though intrigued by the implementation of drones for private use as an additional tool for citizens to hold government accountable, Crump said the ACLU remains "concerned that they not become tools of general or pervasive surveillance so that innocent Americans have to worry about whether they're being subject to this kind of monitoring."

With Americans' expectations of privacy constantly resetting, it is difficult to know for sure whether domestic drones would be seen as a flagrant overstepping of citizen boundaries, Brookings nonresident senior fellow Kenneth Anderson said. He noted social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter wouldn't exist today "if people actually cared about their privacy in the way that we traditionally thought about [it]."

Panelists agreed that even though FAA is in charge of developing the standards for the law, the agency should not be involved with privacy issues, because it lacks expertise in this area and such matters do not traditionally fall under its responsibilities.

"I can imagine no worse forum for discussing privacy concerns than the FAA," Rosenzweig said, comparing the notion to asking the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss national security. "It's apples and clouds."

Threatwatch Alert

Network intrusion / Stolen credentials

85M User Accounts Compromised from Video-sharing Site Dailymotion

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.