The ACLU weighs in on the FAA’s Remote ID

Just recently, the Federal Aviation Administration announced its new Remote ID rule. In a nutshell, drones will require a digital license plate down the road, which must be wirelessly transmitted. Before too long, some drones being manufactured will have this capability built-in, or you will be able to purchase a separate module that does the job. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union has offered its own take on the rule.

Like many regulations, the FAA’s Remote ID Rule attempts to strike a balance. On the one hand, the federal agency is looking for ways to help ensure the safety of the national airspace. On the other, there’s a reasonable expectation that any rule won’t force drone owners to relinquish all of their rights to privacy. So the Remote ID rule tries to hit the middle ground – giving those who need to know reasonable access to information while your drone is in flight.

And the ACLU thinks it’s done a reasonable job.

The ACLU take

The organization offered up its view in this piece, written by senior policy analyst Jay Stanley. He argues that the rights of people on the ground – who might be subject to an invasion or privacy through drone use – should carry more weight than the rights of those piloting the drones. It’s reasonable, says the ACLU, for people on the ground to be able to obtain information about who’s flying drones above.

The ACLU weighs in…

…the privacy interests of people on the ground take precedence, given the strong potential use of drones for mass surveillance. As a result, we think the concept of a system akin to “license plates” for drones is not unreasonable. Aircraft, like cars, can affect the safety of others and thus are highly regulated. Drone “license plates” would provide accountability for drone operators and could help protect privacy by giving everybody the ability to identify who owns a drone flying overhead… We think this is good; the broadcast Remote ID should be sufficient to achieve both the security goal of allowing facilities to identify and deter illegal or hostile drone flights and the privacy goal of empowering individuals to know what aerial cameras may be recording them.

Jay Stanley, ACLU Senior Policy Analyst

“Session ID”

The FAA has said that it intends to look at the possibility of offering drone operators something called a “Session ID” – which would be kind of an anonymizing feature. That way, for example, a citizen journalist could capture video of a major demonstration without concern that law enforcement or others might come after them for the footage or to harass them. And there, the ACLU expresses both approval and concern:

While that would be a good thing for professional and citizen journalists, it would also mean that members of a community may have no idea whether a drone hovering over their home belongs to Amazon, the police, or the kid who lives down the street. And the public won’t be able to track the activities of corporate or police drones over time. The FAA says that the details of session IDs will be worked out in a future rulemaking. In our view, if there’s to be a session ID, it should not be available to police or other government drones (other than perhaps in exceptional circumstances where there is a strong immediate justification for such secrecy), or to corporate drones flown by companies like Amazon or Google.

Jay Stanley, ACLU Senior Policy Analyst

It’s coming, but not for a bit…

If you’re concerned your drone doesn’t have the hardware to meet Remote ID requirements, don’t worry about it yet. Manufacturers have been given 18 months to start including the widgets that will transmit the ID over WiFi or Bluetooth. Operators have 30 months to be compliant.

If you’d like to read the full ACLU story, you’ll find it here.