- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

For decades, the Federal Aviation Administration has focused on ensuring safety in American skies.

But with the rise of drones, officials concede that their role will evolve to include privacy and Fourth Amendment concerns.

“Our job is safety and its to make sure that [drones] are safely integrated into the national airspace system. The privacy part of it is a legal matter at the local, state and federal level. But we recognize that together, if we don’t tackle that issue successfully, the technological progress won’t matter,” said John Porcari, U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, during a speech at the drone industry’s conference in Washington on Wednesday morning.

Drone sector leaders, lawmakers and others have questioned why the FAA — an arm of the Transportation Department — is being tasked with handling the privacy questions posed by unmanned aerial vehicles. The mission seemingly falls outside the agency’s normal scope of operations, but the federal government has yet to lay out exactly which individuals or departments will oversee drone privacy policies.

In the absence of a clear responsible party, the Transportation Department is accepting that it will be a key player in the privacy debate as drones are fully integrated in U.S. airways, scheduled to happen by September 2015.

Privacy “is a legitimate issue, and it’s one we take very seriously. But it is one that, for a safety agency, is outside the normal lanes of safety. But we recognize that we need to tackle it together,” Mr. Porcari said.

SEE ALSO: Drone convention keeps privacy at the forefront — for protesters and officials

Apart from federal policy, state governments have begun to take the lead on establishing drone privacy policies to govern where they can fly and what types of data they can collect, and how that data can be stored and used.

More than 40 states have adopted or are considering drone privacy bills. Earlier this week, Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who chairs the Aerospace States Association, addressed convention-goers and released his group’s drone privacy recommendations.

Those guidelines may be used by states as they contemplate drone privacy restrictions.

The FAA has begun to address the issue by requiring strict privacy policies as it chooses its six drone test site locations.

Those sites, to be named by the end of the year, will be used to conduct in-depth research on drones and serve as the primary testing grounds to gain a deeper understanding of how the craft perform in a variety of different conditions.

Two dozen states are angling to host a test site, and Mr. Porcari stressed that a detailed, effective privacy policy is a necessary criterion to be chosen.

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