The PJ Tatler

House Committee Confronted with Privacy Concerns about Drones

Today, the House Aviation Subcommittee hearing on drones registered complaints from members about the Federal Aviation Administration dragging its feet on regulating the lucrative, growing drone industry.

But Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) was more concerned with the privacy issue surrounding drone use.  He said at the hearing: “In addition to a ceiling [on how high UAVs will be permitted to fly, so that they don’t hit commercial aircraft], one of the things I would like to see is a floor. What is a reasonable expectation on your property? If something is an inch above the ground, is it trespassing? If it’s ten feet above the ground, is it trespassing? You have the right to engage a trespasser.”

Drone snooping is not just a theoretical possibility. Last summer, a drone operator was beaten up for piloting his drone a little too close to sunbathers on the beach. (Here’s another peeping drone story.)

Massie told Roll Call after the hearing, “If it’s at 10,000 feet, you’re probably not even going to know it’s there and you’re going to be powerless to stop it. But there is some answer here…. Clearly, if something comes hovering into your property, it’s trespassing.”

He added, “Maybe this is something that needs to be done at the state level, but somebody needs to establish reasonable expectations for where your privacy starts and ends on your private property.”

The FAA’s new rule on small drones (UAV) will not deal with privacy limits, but Massie said he would like to see that.

Of course, like everything in Washington D.C., multiple competing interests are at work. The National Association of Realtors says the use of drones to take pictures of real estate is a “game-changer” for the industry, so naturally they don’t want regulatory frameworks that are “so burdensome and expensive as to prevent UAVs from being used by industries that can benefit from its use.”