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You are being watched: 7,500 drones in U.S. airspace within five years, FAA says

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Is that a bluebird on your shoulder? Or, worse yet, a high-tech, drone unmanned aircraft watching your every move? That's the latest bit of alarming news from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA. There could be as many as 7,500 commercial drones within the next five years. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta unveiled a long-awaited regulatory blueprint that seeks to protect Americans' privacy, while simultaneously seeking law enforcement and private companies seeking to operate unmanned aerial vehicles.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Huerta says the agency will set up six sites across the country to test drone operators. He did caution that there could be delays for those looking to obtain certificates to operate unmanned aircraft once the regulatory guidelines are in place.

"We must fulfill those obligations in a thoughtful, careful manner that ensures safety and promotes economic growth," Huerta said in a speech to aerospace industry executives. He ensured other that safety in increasingly crowded skies was his agency's top priority.

The announcement is just the latest step in the march toward transitioning drones from military against terrorism to civilian applications. This could range anywhere from collecting survey and weather data to assisting rescues and law enforcement operations.

This new growth industry has raised concerns among privacy advocates. The FAA is requiring future test sites to develop privacy plans and make them available to the public.

"Make no mistake about it, privacy is an extremely important issue and it is something that the public has a significant interest and concern over and we need to recognize as an industry that if we are going to take full advantage of the benefits that we are talking about for these technologies we need to be responsive to the public's concerns about privacy," Huerta said.

American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese told that while the FAA's requirement for public disclosure of data and retention policies are needed and welcome, the safeguards do not go far enough.

"It's crucial that as we move forward with drone use, those procedural protections are followed by concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored. Congress must also weigh in on areas outside of the FAA's authority, such as use by law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, which have the ability to use drones for invasive surveillance that must be kept in check," Calabrese said.

Legislation has been introduced by Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat that if passed, would require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before using drones to collect surveillance data on U.S. soil.

"People are really worried about drone use. You see it in a huge number of state bills and laws, and I think the FAA needs to understand that if they don't address privacy issues then drones are not going to be a useful technology," he said. "Privacy can't be swept under the rug."

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