Advocates Sue for Federal Records in Drone Privacy Push

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By Daniel R. Stoller

Privacy advocates are suing a government drone advisory group for its records, in a bid to determine if commercial drones violate U.S citizens’ privacy rights.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wants records from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Advisory Committee, including those related to meetings that discuss privacy protections. The suit, brought under federal administrative law, is part of a larger push by EPIC and other privacy groups to get the FAA to enact privacy regulations on commercial drone use.

Privacy groups are worried about commercial drones because of the unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs) ability to capture images or record video that are out of reach of most humans.

The aircraft, once used only by the military, have become a hot private sector technology. The commercial drone sector is expected to become a $100 billion industry by 2020, according to Goldman Sachs. As more drones hit the skies, there will undoubtedly be more cases of drones capturing images or video of people on the ground than normally would have expected privacy.

According to the April 11 complaint, consumers have already reported instances of “surveillance by drones on private property and drone stalking,” among other threats to aircraft and law enforcement officials. Drones raise privacy concerns because UAVs are now able to “gather sensitive, personal information using infrared cameras, heat sensors, GPS, automated license plate readers, facial recognition devices, and other sensors,” EPIC alleged.

EPIC has a long history with the FAA, dating back to a 2012 petition calling for the agency to issue privacy regulations on drones. The FAA denied the petition and EPIC sued again to challenge the FAA’s final rule on drone safety. That litigation is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Drone Advisory Committee representatives didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Law’s email request for comment.

The case is Elec. Privacy Info. Cntr. v. Drone Advisory Comm. , D.D.C., No. 18-cv-00833, complaint 4/11/18 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel R. Stoller in Washington at dstoller@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Barbara Yuill at byuill@bloomberglaw.com

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