Drone industry says it's being targeted by civil liberties groups

Oct 1, 2014

The commercial drone industry says privacy advocates are unfairly targeting it when it comes to privacy and surveillance concerns.

The unmanned aerial systems industry wasn’t even expecting to have to fight over privacy when it came to the integration of drones into the national airspace.

"When the FAA bill passed, we had no idea privacy was going to be the issue de jour, of the day, for the next years to come," said Mario Mairena, who handles government relations for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a leading industry trade group.

Mairena recently spoke to a gathering of companies involved in central New York’s drone testing center, known as NUAIR.

AUVSI and Mairena have successfully lobbied against nearly two dozen congressional bills dealing with drones and privacy. The Federal Aviation Administration has been tasked by Congress to develop regulations on commercial drones but privacy controls remain vague.

Mairena says civil liberties groups are trying to scare the public about drones’ potential uses, such as agriculture or search and rescue operations.

"Any new technology could be misused," he told the room. "Where would be today, who'd of thunk it, 15 years ago we would have had to deal with anti-bully measures for uses on the internet."

The American Civil Liberties Union and others have called for rules guiding the integration of drones, saying the cameras they’re equipped with could be used for unwarranted surveillance and spying. Some states and communities have already banned drone use

Mairena says his industry does support enforcement of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful searches.

"Our position is, we support Fourth Amendment rights, and if anyone is carelessly or recklessly utilizing UAS and your Fourth Amendment right has been violated, they should be held accountable and punishable to the fullest extent of the law," he said.