Companies and individuals should refrain from using drones to spy on their employees or their neighbors, but for news organizations it’s well within their remit to do just that.
At least, according to new guidelines published by the U.S. government on how to use drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), as officials now like to call them.
The government’s advice comes by way of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The NTIA has just released a new set of best practice guidelines on drones, with specific advice for companies, individuals and news organizations after a year of consultations with all three groups.
As is suggested by the word “guidelines”, these rules are not legally binding, but a recommendation. Nonetheless, they will serve as the foundation of a much broader effort by the U.S. government on how to regulate drone technology and assess its future impact on citizens and business.
The new NTIA guidelines are in many ways the antithesis of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA)’s recently published drone rules – whereas the FAA’s rules seem deliberately precise, the NTIA’s recommendations are somewhat vague; while the FAA threatens people with fines, the NTIA instead preaches for users to take caution; where the FAA often seems unrealistic, the NTIA goes out of its way to be as realistic as possible.
As for the specific guidelines for each of the three groups, the NTIA pays a lot of attention to companies wanting to use drones. It’s guidelines for companies state they should give people advance warning of the fact they intend to fly drones over their homes or place of work. It recommends they provide approximate times and should inform people of the information they will be gathering and what they intend to do with that information. The guidelines further stress that companies should only gather information that is necessary, and they should ensure that data is kept secure.
The NTIA also advises against certain uses altogether, for example anything to do with employment eligibility, promotion, or retention; credit eligibility; and healthcare treatment eligibility. In other words, the NTIA doesn’t recommend companies spy on their employees (but of course, this is only a “recommendation”).
As far as individual drone flyers go, the NTIA says it’s better to let people know ahead of time if you’re going to be buzzing around their heads, taking pictures and videos of them. It also warns against flying over private property, gathering personal information, and says drone operators should give people a reasonable level of privacy, and delete any data on people if they ask.
Last but not least, news organizations. Quite why the NTIA thought necessary to separate them from the broader “companies” category isn’t entirely made clear, but the document notes that: “Newsgathering and news reporting are strongly protected by United States law, including the First Amendment to the Constitution. The public relies on an independent press to gather and report the news and ensure an informed public.”
As such, the rules do not apply to news organizations, which are instead advised to “operate under the ethics rules and standards of their organization, and according to existing federal and state laws.”