NTIA Postpones Drone Privacy Meeting

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration has postponed an April 8 multistakeholder meeting on drone privacy, saying some stakeholders said that work on a revised draft of voluntary drone privacy guidelines would not be ready to circulate to the full group until April 22.

The meeting will be rescheduled for early May, according to John Verdi, NTIA’s director of privacy initiatives, in a note to stakeholders.

The effort is among a number sets of best practices NTIA is trying to help industry and civil society representatives agree on to enforce the Obama administration's privacy bill of rights. Others include on apps and facial recognition.

It has been a year since NTIA sought comment on " privacy, accountability, and transparency issues" surrounding the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which are being increasingly used in TV news and film production.

Those studios told NTIA they do not think there need to be any privacy guidelines for their use in such productions since they are either used on closed sets, or where they are not collecting information from the public.

Back in November, major broadcast and print news operations and others in the News Media Coalition (NMC) asked NTIA to make sure it does not limit their First Amendment rights in its ongoing effort to come up with privacy guidelines for the new wave of UAS.

At NTIA's fourth multistakeholder meeting Nov. 20, those stakeholders agreed to try and reconcile draft proposals before reconvening, notably one from privacy advocacy group Center for Democracy and Technology and one from First Amendment advocacy group NMC.

NMC warned in a letter to NTIA outlining its proposals that the approaches of other stakeholders "risk upsetting the careful existing balance our laws and practices recognize between individual privacy interests and the right to gather news without interference by the government."

They suggested that federal privacy bureaucracy or technological mandates don't fit with First Amendment protections for journalists.

A principal difference between the NMC and other proposals, they say, is that those other proposals would make it incumbent on journalists to prove that the best practice guidelines are not reasonable rather than requiring a compelling interest in "narrowly tailoring" journalists' drone use. The presumption should be that journalists' drone use is a constitutional right to report the news, and the public's right to receive it.

The journalists also point out that there are already "robust" state privacy laws that apply to UAS photography as well as other newsgathering and that no new UAS-specific state or federal laws are necessary.

Another argument they make is that images and sounds depicting activity in public places are not private, and that "the personal nature or even offensiveness of the image or footage captured does not minimize the protection afforded to the images and footage." NMC said it was particularly concerned about a privacy framework that restricted a journalist's access to a public place. NMC cites the CDT draft definition of "personal data" as a face or voice recording linked to an identifiable person.

NMC members include NBCU, ABC, the New York Times, Scripps, Sinclair, Tegna, Cox and Belo.

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.