The nation's police chiefs have adopted a code of conduct for their use of drones, including letting any images captured by unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, be open to inspection by the public, and that the images not be stored unless they are evidence of a crime or part of an ongoing investigation.
The chiefs also said that if they plan to fly drones over an area where they are likely to spot criminal activity and where they would be intruding on someone's "reasonable expectations of privacy," they should seek to get a search warrant first.
In their three-page document, the chiefs said they are aware of privacy issues that have arisen with the prospect of an explosion in both governmental and private use of drone technology.
"Privacy concerns are an issue that must be dealt with effectively if a law enforcement agency expects the public to support the use of UAV by their police," the chiefs said.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the industry trade group, applauded the new rules, saying they struck a good balance.
Here are the eight operational rules the chiefs recommended:
1. UAV operations require a Certificate of Authorization (CAO) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A law enforcement agency contemplating the use of UAV should contact the FAA early in the planning process to determine the requirements for obtaining a COA.
2. UAVs will only be operated by personnel, both pilots and crew members, who have been trained and certified in the operation of the system. All agency personnel with UAV responsibilities, including command officers, will be provided training in the policies and procedures governing their use.
3. All flights will be approved by a supervisor and must be for a legitimate public safety mission, training, or demonstration purposes.
4. All flights will be documented on a form designed for that purpose and all flight time shall be accounted for on the form. The reason for the flight and name of the supervisor approving will also be documented.
5. An authorized supervisor/administrator will audit flight documentation at regular intervals. The results of the audit will be documented. Any changes to the flight time counter will be documented.
6. Unauthorized use of a UAV will result in strict accountability.
7. Except for those instances where officer safety could be jeopardized, the agency should consider using a "Reverse 911" telephone system to alert those living and working in the vicinity of aircraft operations (if such a system is available). If such a system is not available, the use of patrol car public address systems should be considered. This will not only provide a level of safety should the aircraft make an uncontrolled landing, but citizens may also be able to assist with the incident.
8. Where there are specific and articulable grounds to believe that the UA will collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing and if the UAV will intrude upon reasonable expectations of privacy, the agency will secure a search warrant prior to conducting the flight.
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