Is the use of commercial drone technology a privacy threat?

Drones have rapidly evolved from recreational toys to powerful devices that can bolster numerous commercial activities. From the delivery of business items to the fulfillment of lunch orders, drone technology is becoming more accessible to and applicable within a multitude of business settings.

This is especially true in the construction market, for example, where drones can provide previously-inaccessible views of projects and landscapes at low costs. However, these camera-equipped devices also raise concerns as to what else is being recorded besides the target picturesque views. Any commercial business looking to involve the increasingly efficient technology of drones must be aware of legal obligations related to registration of their devices and sensitive to public views of privacy.

All commercial drone users are required to proceed through a three-step process. First, the owner must receive an N-number aircraft registration for the drone and obtain a Section 333 exemption from the airworthiness requirements necessary to operate full-size aircrafts using that same N-number registration. Lastly, the owner needs a certificate of authorization or waiver to fly in a specifically described airspace. For businesses, like construction companies, this would require inclusion of the flight path details and the intended use off the drone.

The developments in drone technology have created new issues regarding individuals’ privacy. In order to photograph new construction or capture breathtaking skyline views for artistic or marketing purposes, drones often contain continuously-recording cameras. What happens when one of these cameras catch a person on film and without their consent? Capturing this type of footage can implicate applicable “peeping tom” or un-authorized surveillance statutes and may result in unintended liability to the drone operator.

However, in reality, the commercial use of drones is unlikely to cause any real threat to security and privacy. Absent an ill intent to spy or conduct surveillance on others, incidental footage of private individuals would not rise to the level necessary to violate privacy laws.    

Moreover, the ACLU has stated that it would be better for states to create more tailored laws regulating drone use rather than overarching governance that would severely restrict the many efficient and useful applications of drone technology.

Commercial businesses should endeavor to research both federal and state regulations before adopting drone technology in their respective markets. While this area of regulation is constantly changing and it is essential to remain mindful of privacy concerns, drone technology can be a viable and valuable tool for many business practices. 

General News