The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has been doing battle with the FAA over drone privacy since 2012, but suffered a loss this week. The D.C. Circuit (the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) rejected EPIC’s petition to review FAA’s small drone rule, “finding the nonprofit lacked standing to mount a challenge over the exclusion of privacy safeguards,” reports Law360. “The three-judge panel said in a unanimous decision that EPIC failed to show how its members or the organization itself would be injured by the rules…”
EPIC first addressed the issue by presenting the FAA with a petition in 2012, asking that the FAA establish privacy protections as part of drone regulations. FAA, however, did not address the organization’s concerns: “In 2014, the FAA responded to EPIC’s petition, claiming that drone privacy implications “did not raise an immediate safety concern.”” says an EPIC background piece. The FAA indicated that the organization’s concerns would be addressed in the final rule. “But in 2015 when the FAA announced a rulemaking on commercial drones, the agency purposefully ignored privacy concerns, stating that privacy “issues are beyond the scope of this rulemaking,”” said EPIC.
What followed were two lawsuits. The first was rejected by the D.C. Circuit which ruled that EPIC was “premature” in challenging the Small Drone Rulemaking, which had not yet been passed. When the rule was finalized in 2016, EPIC again filed suit. This second suit has now been rejected by the D.C. Circuit.
EPIC has also filed suit against the Drone Advisory Committee, in an effort to force them to open subcommittee meetings and make reports available to the public. “EPIC has also pursued several open government matters regarding the FAA’s decision making process, which appears intended to purposefully avoid the development of meaningful privacy safeguards,” says EPIC.
The agency’s concerns are that drones flying too high to be seen may be performing surveillance: instigated by the government, commercial entities, or individuals. “Drones are designed to undertake constant, persistent surveillance to a degree that former methods of video surveillance were unable to achieve.” says EPIC.
“…The increased use of drones poses an ongoing threat to every person residing within the United States.”