News Outlets: Existing Laws Suffice for Drone Privacy

Major news outlets have told the government they are happy to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and others on drone privacy issues, but they think that no new technology-specific legal framework is needed for UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) or is either "warranted or wise."

The outlets—which included ABC, NBCU, CNN, the New York Times, TV station groups, and many others—argued that "robust" state laws already on the books are sufficient, and provide the right balance between protecting privacy and protecting "visual journalism in public places."

That came in comments to NTIA, which were made public Friday (April 24).

In its comments, the News Media Coalition said its members had already been working with the government to develop laws, regulations and best practices and would continue to do so, but said that they thought the existing legal framework for protecting privacy, including state tort laws and criminal statutes related to privacy will apply to UAS as they do other conduct, while safeguarding the public's right to receive information and journalist's rights to report news.

On Feb. 15, President Obama directed the NTIA to "establish a multistakeholder engagement process to develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS use in the National Airspace System (NAS)."

They likened the concerns for drone privacy to privacy concerns raised over the introduction of the Kodak Brownie 125 years ago. As for the quaintness of the supposed Brownie threat, they cited an early example of the Victorian version of an upskirt, quoting from a Smithsonian article on the invention of the snapshot: "In Britain, young men reportedly formed a 'Vigilance Association'-'for the purpose of thrashing the cads with cameras who go about at seaside places taking snapshots of ladies emerging from the deep.'"

"Just as those concerns have become quaint history over the passage of time," the coalition said, "the News Media Coalition is confident that- as the public becomes acclimated to the newer forms of visual journalism and the public benefit of the new technologies -UAS photography will become familiar and benign to most people."

NTIA received comments from more than four dozen commenters, including Google and Amazon, which also urged NTIA to develop general principles rather than specific or binding codes, arguing that the drone effort was different from NTIA's oversight of multistakeholder efforts to create such codes for mobile app and facial recognition privacy—as a way of enforcing the Obama Administration's Privacy Bill of Rights.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.