A group of privacy experts and technology giants have come together under the Obama administration to issue guidelines for operating drones without being too intrusive. The suggestions made aren’t mandatory, but some business interests that are part of the debate hope the guidelines will head off tougher regulations, which they believe will smother the drone industry in its early stages. It is important to note that news organizations are exempt from the guidelines on the grounds of free press.
Advocates say drones have a lot of benefits, and from inspecting power lines to distributing medicine to remote areas, their applications are quite diverse. Google Inc. and Amazon Inc. are making arrangements to use them for deliveries. The drop in prices has also made drones more popular among hobbyists also.
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The other side of all this is the fact that these drones come equipped with cameras and sensors that have raised privacy concerns among the parties involved.
The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently unveiled the “best practices,” which had support from drone manufacturers, Amazon, and various other stakeholders in the industry and of course privacy advocates. The suggestions are targeted at commercial and private drone users.
Listed below are some of the recommendations:
• Operators shouldn’t fly their drones over private property without the owner’s consent.
• They should alert people in the area ahead of time when it is practical and explain the purpose of the drone flight.
• Unless there is “a compelling need,” operators shouldn’t fly a drone where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy and a drone should not be used to follow someone continuously.
• Don’t use information gathered by drones for decisions about employment, credit, or eligibility for health care.
• Don’t use personal information for marketing purposes without the individual’s consent.
• Information from drones shouldn’t be held longer than “reasonably necessary,” although exceptions can be made for legal disputes, safety reasons, or with permission of the person being watched.
There are over 500 drones registered for commercial use, and over 400,000 hobbyists have registered at least one drone according to the numbers from the Federal Aviation Administration. The prevalence of drones has soared over the past year and this has increased the pressure on the industry and privacy advocates to agree on guidelines that will govern their use.
The Center for Democracy and Technology has mentioned that it hoped the big companies and individual owners will follow the guidelines.
“We’re concerned about the widespread use of drones for surveillance without any rules,” said Chris Calabrese, the group’s vice president of policy. He said the group got all the necessary protections it required in the guidelines, including protection against continued surveillance even in public places and use of drone-gathered information in employment and marketing.
News organizations were included in the discussions and they were ultimately given an exemption from the guidelines. The standards indicate that news outlets should be able to use drones in the same way they use comparable technology such as planes and helicopters.