There are some laws that protect you from being spied in your home, but no federal laws will protect you from being spied by a drone.
If you compare a drone with a cellphone or a camera, you will see that it can easily fly overhead without you noticing it, look exactly into a private window or screen your property from the air. Most drones are designed for aerial videography and to capture images.
However, the government is aware of this breach. Senator Ed Markey introduced new set of laws today to give people more privacy protection against drones.
“What happens if there are drones that are gathering, through facial recognition, who is shopping on Main Street and selling that to advertisers?” asked Markey at a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday morning regarding the future of drones in the U.S.
How much damage can drones do?
He also noted that a drone can take pictures of every license plate at a health clinic and then sell that information to an insurance company that will have more benefits as it knows now exactly what disease is being treated.
On the other side, Earl Lawrence, the director of the Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems at the Federal Aviation Administration, mentioned an advisory committee assembled by the FAA, which mostly consists of representatives from the drone industry.
This committee has been working on the drone policies much longer. However, he did not say anything about specific actions that the FAA is taking to strengthen drone privacy.
Last year, a set of best practises for respecting privacy when using a drone was released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency that advises the president on tech problems.
According to this document, operators should notify people when using a drone that is collecting personal identifiables in its range of visibility. Also the document advises to inform people about how this data will be used.
Still all these recommendations are voluntary and not obligatory.
However, not all the experts agreed on the security statement. John Villasenor, a professor of engineering and public policy at the University of California Los Angeles, asked to give some evidence and claimed that current federal privacy laws are good enough.
“I think it is premature to enact broad new federal legislation specifically directed to unmanned aircraft privacy,” Villasenor gave his evidence. He added that new drone privacy laws may inadvertently violate the First Amendment rights of drone operators who are flying and filming responsibly.
He also said that there’s little evidence to prove that current federal privacy laws have failed with respect to drones.
The set of laws offered by Senator Markey aims to protect privacy and reduce data requirements about the information that any drone gathers, disclose provisions for when data collection happens and enable requirements for law enforcement.
Another problem that was discussed largely at the hearing were concerns about drones that fly too close to manned aircraft.
According to the FAA report, between February and September last year, there were 1,274 probable drone sightings reported from pilots, air traffic control, law enforcement and members of the public.
Just to compare, in the same period in 2015, this number was only 874.
The FAA members say that they still have to count any collisions between a manned airplane and a drone, although more than 670,000 drones have been registered since the FAA launched its registration system by the end of 2015.