Drone Association Says Privacy Advocates Putting Industry at Risk

"I'm shocked when I walk the trade show floor here by the lack of attention to this issue mostly because it's a business opportunity," McNeal said, stressing that the first company to sell drone technology with built-in auditing including logs and date/time stamps would be "two to three years ahead of the privacy curve" and able to sell it to states facing anti-drone legislative action.

"Unmanned systems can be more accountable than manned systems," McNeal said.

He echoed Gielow's concerns about legislation not taking a "technology-neutral stance."

"If we're concerned about always being watched, then we should be concerned about being watched by a camera on the telephone pole as well as the unmanned system," continued McNeal. The bills just focused on drones, he said, tap into "dystopian fears of robotics and unmanned systems."

Stanley argued that that drone surveillance will go 24/7, 365 sooner than later, so "good protections" need to be enacted now.

"If you had a police officer following you 24/7 you'd freak out," he said. "…There is a wave of concern in the country about drones… they are a very powerful surveillance technology and they do need to be regulated."

Doug Marshall, division manager of the UAS regulatory and standards development program at New Mexico State University, said six states have some sort of law on the books regarding drone use and 41 others have legislation up for consideration, resulting in the risk of "a jigsaw puzzle of conflicting regulations." Ultimately, airspace is a federal issue and states can just control use by their agencies.

Marshall predicted the privacy implications of drone use will make it to the Supreme Court within the next two or three years -- "a scary thing for all of us to have in this industry."

Stanley, though, said once privacy protections are spelled out by law -- federal law being the ACLU's first choice, with state laws their second choice -- "that will be good for the drone industry."

He stressed that they don't have the same objections to private drone use, which carries First Amendment implications, as they do to government use. "We think photography is something that people should use to watch over the government," Stanley said, adding later they support an "individual with the ability to watch the government but not government watching the individual."