Current Privacy Laws Can Cover Drone Issues, News Media Recommends

By Tom Burton

Existing laws will protect both the right to privacy and the First Amendment even with drones in the air, according to an argument presented to the Federal Trade Commission by media industry organizations.

The News Media Coalition has presented comments to the FTC arguing that the commission avoid creating additional regulations concerning drone use for newsgathering. The FTC held a public meeting last week and is soliciting input from the general public on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and rights to privacy.

The coalition of 23 media corporations and professional associations, including the National Press Photographers Association, presented the opinion to the FTC through the Holland & Knight law firm on October 7. Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the NPPA, helped draft the comments. The full text of the draft can be found here.

“As we did during the stakeholder meetings of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) regarding best practices for drone privacy, we will continue to advocate for First Amendment protections in the area of newsgathering regardless of the technology involved,” Osterreicher said.

The comments from the coalition noted that privacy concerns with new technology go back at least as far as the introduction of the Kodak Brownie camera in the late 1800s. Current privacy laws can protect citizens “whether by traditional cameras, camera phones, telephoto lenses or UAS photography.”

In addition, the coalition argues that no new laws should prohibit UAS photography in public places or in situations where there isn’t a reasonable expectation of privacy. Also, editorial decisions on the use of those images must be left to the newsrooms, the coalition recommended.

The FTC has heard arguments from other sources that data collected by drones, which can include data beyond video and photography, is a threat to privacy similar to some internet website data collection. There are also arguments that because a drone operator is not physically with the UAS, they could try to circumvent existing laws like trespassing.

The FTC will continue to accept public comments on UAS operations and privacy issues until Nov. 14.