Group: States Should Require Warrants for UAS Surveillance

 - August 13, 2013, 3:58 PM
Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, chairman of the Aerospace States Association, released UAS 'considerations' for lawmakers at the Unmanned Systems Conference. (Photo: Bill Carey)

Government agencies would not be allowed to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to track individuals without first obtaining a warrant under a set of recommendations developed by a coalition of state governmental organizations. The Aerospace States Association (ASA) released the privacy-focused UAS “considerations” on Tuesday at the Unmanned Systems 2013 conference in Washington, D.C. They are intended to serve as guidance for state lawmakers in developing UAS legislation.

“The paper we are releasing today, I believe, strikes a fine balance between protecting individual privacy rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment and exploiting the significant economic and humanitarian benefits of UAS technology,” said Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, ASA chairman. “Those benefits range widely from Arctic observation to search and rescue to precision agriculture, all of which can help our economy dramatically.”

Under the 2012 FAA reauthorization act, the U.S. Congress requires the “safe integration” of UAS in the National Airspace System beginning in September 2015. But the Federal Aviation Administration’s effort to draft a regulation governing the introduction of small UAS has been slowed by privacy concerns about their surveillance capabilities. “Last year, when Congress mandated that the Federal Aviation Administration create a plan to integrate UAS in the national airspace, I don’t think anyone anticipated that their progress would be so long delayed by a widespread concern over privacy rights,” Treadwell said.

Four states have adopted legislation regulating or restricting UAS, and similar laws are pending in 35 other states, according to Treadwell. “All of it treats UAS with certain skepticism,” he added.

The ASA, an organization of state lieutenant governors, developed the UAS recommendations for state policymakers in conjunction with the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other organizations provided input into the process, including the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Foremost among the recommendations is that states require a warrant for government surveillance of individuals or their property “where the individual is specifically targeted for surveillance in advance without [his] permission.” States should also consider prohibiting commercial UAS and model aircraft flights from tracking specific individuals without their consent. They should put in place operating conditions for the use and retention of data collected by UAS. They also should prohibit any UAS from carrying weapons in commercial airspace.