by JADZIA BUTLER
In 1946, the Supreme Court declared that our airspace is a “public highway” when it considered the case of military planes taking off and landing alarmingly close to the Causby family’s chicken farm. Fast forward to today, seventy years later, and it’s clear that the highway is about to become more crowded and closer to home than ever before, thanks to the rapidly increasing commercial and private use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – or “drones.”
It’s easy to imagine the exciting possibilities that these flying robots will bring to the table. For example, it’s likely that seeing drones buzzing around with packages will soon become as common as seeing a UPS truck or a pizza delivery guy. With drones, first responders to a disaster area will be able to arrive at the scene within minutes, and farmers will have easier, more efficient means to tend to their crops. On the other hand, the privacy concerns that come with drones – some of which are very small, armed with cameras, and nearly silent – are obviously real. In fact, some people are so concerned about the prospect of drones hovering ominously close to their property, and possibly filming their every move, that they’ve resorted to shooting them out of the sky.
In order to reconcile the exciting possibilities of drone operations with these privacy concerns, last year President Obama called on interested stakeholders to establish best practices for “privacy, accountability, and transparency issues” regarding UAS. Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that a group consisting of members of civil society (including CDT), trade groups, and companies has created a comprehensive consensus document.