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NTIA Puts Out Voluntary Best Practices on UAS Use Privacy


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A Presidentially-driven process to create “best practices” related to drone use as it relates to “privacy, accountability, and transparency issues” has, after 15 months, come to a conclusion.

A “consensus document” evolved from a memorandum in February 2015 from President Obama that tasked the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, to look into Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and “the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns these systems may raise.”

Since that time the NTIA invited public comments on the matter, and then initiated a series of meetings, six in total, where “stakeholders” expressed views on the topics, created a number of draft documents, and critiqued, analyzed and amended those documents.  Ultimately, a “working group” of the stakeholders, after a cancelled meeting in April, put forth a final draft document for consideration at a meeting on May 18, 2016.   It was discussed and amended further, and then declared by the NTIA organizers as a completed “consensus” document, despite the fact that at nearly a dozen of the attendees at the meeting said they could not support the document as it had been concluded.   No vote was taken.  There did seem to be true agreement that no further meetings would be useful in coming to any altered conclusion or changes regarding the final drafted/amended document that evolved on May 18.

The “Voluntary Best Practices for UAS Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability” document is about six pages, plus an appendix, and includes five main topics:  Introduction, Applicability, Definitions, Voluntary Best Practices, and Best Practices for Newsgatherers and New Reporting Organizations.  They key points in the “Voluntary Best Practices” section are elaborated on under the banners of five guidelines:

1. Inform Others of Your Use of UAS

2. Show Care When Operating UAS of Collecting and Storing Covered Data

3. Limit the Use and Sharing of Covered Data

4. Secure Covered Data

5. Monitor and Comply with Evolving Federal, State and  Local UAS Laws

The Newsgatherers portion basically says that U.S. law and the First Amendment to the Constitution protect their work, and thus these best practices do not apply, but instead they should operate “under the ethics rules and standards of their organization…”

The document is found here: https://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/voluntary_best_practices_for_uas_privacy_transparency_and_accountability_0.pdf

It was stressed that this document is voluntary in nature, and not intended to be regulatory in any way.

The groups that participated in this NTIA effort included organizations as diverse as drone manufacturers and drone operators’ advocacy groups, privacy advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and media organizations, including the News Media Coalition representing nearly two dozen major media entities and organizations,  among them The New York Times, NBC, The Associated Press, and others.

Details of this effort, summaries of meetings, documents drafted, and the final document and statement from an NTIA official are at this NTIA website: https://www.ntia.doc.gov/other-publication/2016/multistakeholder-process-unmanned-aircraft-systems .

The NTIA has encouraged anyone with further views on the topic, either confirming, commenting, or in opposition, to send them in to the NTIA, and they will be linked on this NTIA website, as well.

Berl Brechner, NewsDrones ®,  May 19, 2015