'Voluntary' NTIA Drone Best Practices Likely to Shape Federal Law
The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working on a comprehensive set of drone regulations that will include privacy rules. You can assume that those privacy rules will be remarkably similar to what the NTIA says is voluntary. Except when the FAA issues those regulations, they won't be voluntary. Likewise, those data collection, use and retention practices may be voluntary as far as the NTIA is concerned, but it's the Federal Trade Commission that handles most privacy rules, and those aren't voluntary either. You can assume that the word "voluntary" is in these best practices just for now. These will likely be rules that you have to follow in the near future, so you might as well adopt them now. In addition, the existence of those best practices will be legal fodder for anyone who wants to sue you for drone activities that are perceived as offensive, so you probably should adopt them as if they're gospel now, and make sure your drone operators do as well.Likewise, stories of drone operators doing other illegal activities such as buzzing airliners are common. While the privacy rules don't cover all of those activities, they do underscore the need for some common sense regulations. Perhaps more important to companies contemplating drone use for photography, delivery, surveying or environmental monitoring is that these best practices are themselves mostly common sense. In the set of best practices, the NTIA recommends that companies create a set of written policies for gathering and securing what the agency calls "covered data" and that data sharing be limited in a manner already covered by other data sharing rules. This means, for example, that you can't sell data you've gathered with a drone to anyone without the subject's permission, and that you can't use it for "employment eligibility, promotion, or retention; credit eligibility; or health care treatment eligibility other than when expressly permitted by and subject to the requirements of a sector-specific regulatory framework." If you start now applying these guidelines today, you will find that when the formal regulations come down from the FAA, you will already be doing the right thing.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. The news has been full of stories about irresponsible drone operators violating the privacy of people as they buzz apartments, pools and beaches.