FAA Releases First UAS 'Roadmap,' Privacy Policy

 - November 7, 2013, 4:32 PM

The Federal Aviation Administration released a privacy policy on Thursday that will apply to the operators of six national test ranges for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) the agency plans to select by the end of the year. The FAA also released its first, five-year UAS “roadmap” outlining policies, regulations, technologies and procedures that will be needed to introduce unmanned aircraft into unrestricted airspace “on a routine basis.”

The designation of six UAS test ranges and formulation of the roadmap document were required by Congress in the 2012 FAA reauthorization act. That act also requires the FAA to safely integrate UAS in the National Airspace System (NAS) by Sept. 30, 2015. The FAA estimates that 7,500 small unmanned aircraft will enter the airspace system in the next five years, assuming regulations are in place.

As much as the technological hurdles, privacy concerns arising from the surveillance capabilities of unmanned aircraft carrying sophisticated sensor payloads represent a challenge to UAS airspace integration. The FAA’s privacy policy was developed in parallel with its test-site solicitation, and is limited to the eventual operators of those sites. The agency has received 25 proposals from entities in 26 states for the test ranges, which contenders believe will become clusters of economic activity.

“This policy requires operators to comply with all local, state and federal laws concerning privacy and civil liberties,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We’re requiring test site operators to create a privacy policy and to make it available to the public. And they must require anyone operating unmanned aircraft at the test sites to have a written plan for how they will use and retain any test data that they have acquired.

“On a broader level,” he added, “agencies across the government are coming together to work on privacy issues that may arise with increasing use of unmanned aircraft beyond these test sites.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) said it “applauds the FAA for setting forth a privacy policy for UAS test sites that affirms the strength of existing federal and state privacy laws. As an industry, we believe privacy is important, and that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and subsequent court decisions provide a robust legal framework that protects Americans’ right to privacy. In requiring UAS test sites to have a written plan for data use and retention, the FAA also appropriately focuses on the real issue when it comes to privacy—the use, storage and sharing of data, or whether data collected must be deleted.”

Huerta announced the privacy policy and five-year roadmap at an event in Washington, D.C., organized by the Aerospace Industries Association. He also announced the release of a UAS Comprehensive Plan by the multi-agency Joint Planning and Development Office. The comprehensive plan, also required by the 2012 reauthorization act, “sets the overarching, interagency goals, objectives and approach to integrating UAS into the NAS. Each partner agency will work to achieve these national goals, and may develop agency-specific plans that are aligned to the national goals and objectives,” the document states.

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FAA Privacy Policy, UAS test sites (698K)

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