In November 2015, the Cyberlaw Clinic supported the Electronic Privacy Information Center in submitting comments to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding a proposed registration regime for operators of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”), commonly known as drones. Fall 2015 Clinic students Katherine Kwong and Sophia Choi contributed to EPIC’s comments, in which EPIC expressed general support for a drone registration requirement but raised concerns about the inclusion of personal information about drone operators in a registration database.
In its filing, EPIC noted the risks that UAS (particularly smaller drones) might be used to conduct surveillance. But, EPIC expressed privacy concerns regarding the maintenance of a database containing personal information of registrants and specifically noted the privacy interests of drone hobbyists (who are more likely than commercial operators to register using home addresses).
The FAA’s Interim Final Rule on this subject, issued on December 16, 2015, cited EPIC’s comments extensively. The Rule highlighted EPIC’s concerns about surveillance and interest in ensuring registration requirements were tailored to meet the goals of ensuring “individuals and title search companies to determine the legal ownership of an aircraft” and providing “aircraft owners and operators information about potential mechanical defects or unsafe conditions of their aircraft in the form of airworthiness directives.”