Are Hobbyist Drones Legally Invading Civilian Privacy?

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Are Hobbyist Drones Legally Invading Civilian Privacy?

February 3, 2016

Within the conversation of privacy in the realm of technology, drones are no stranger to controversy. There are many different models and uses for drones. They are used for an array of political, economic and social purposes – utilized by the U.S. government, commercial businesses and hobbyists.

Drones are the hot topic at the moment, and for good reason. As aviation technology continues to advance and flourish, so does the question of whether or not hobbyist drones pose a threat to civilian privacy rights. According to South Carolina resident Cris Stanton, “They flew it right over our house, to me, that’s no different than somebody physically coming onto my property and prowling around. It just feels to me like an invasion of privacy.”

As for protecting civilian privacy, it seems as though the laws surrounding hobbyist drones are somewhat ambiguous. The federal government is supposedly working on new rules and regulations with tech companies, but until a national law is sketched out, it seems that hobbyist drone-users have free reign to fly their drones wherever they please, so long as they comply with a short list of FAA regulations – none of which address civilian privacy.

As for commercial drones, a business must receive authorization from the FAA before they may fly a drone for commercial purposes. For drone hobbyists, effective December 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft must simply register their drone with the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System registry before proceeding to fly their drone outdoors. Registration is fairly straight forward, only costing $5, and is valid for three years. Those who previously operated their drone as a hobbyist have until the 19th of February 2016 to comply, potentially facing civil and criminal penalties if they do not register by the deadline.

Many states are taking it upon themselves to enact drone privacy laws to protect their citizens. For example, South Carolina recently proposed a bill that would outlaw the use of drones over private property.

Golden Frog is committed to increasing awareness around privacy issues, and this expands outside the realm of the Internet. As technology grows and shifts, so do privacy concerns in a variety of spaces. In the case of drones (and many other spaces – take ECPA, for example), the government has been slow to catch up to the rapidly changing industry.

For now, it seems as though states must individually act in order to regulate hobbyist drone use. Privacy will continue to be a prime topic of conversation, and it is only a matter of time before the the FAA must answer to these concerns.

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