President Obama Calls for Transparency in UAS Privacy Memo


The Puma AE was the first UAS to be approved for commercial operations in remote Alaska for the oil and gas industry through an experimental type certificate. Photo: AeroVironment.

President Barack Obama released a memorandum on promoting economic competitiveness while safeguarding privacy, civil rights and civil liberties to coincide with the FAA-released notice of proposed rulemaking for small unmanned aircraft systems.

The document outlines goals and procedures to manage the collection, use, retention and dissemination of information obtained by UAS and ensure protection of privacy and civil liberties.

These systems “may play a transformative role in fields as diverse as urban infrastructure management, farming, public safety, coastal security, military training, search and rescue and disaster response,” according to the memorandum. “As UAS are integrated into the NAS, the federal government will take steps to ensure that the integration takes into account not only our economic competitiveness and public safety, but also the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns these systems may raise.”

The president calls for agencies to only collect and use information from UAS when it is relevant to an authorized purpose. If obtained information contains personally identifiable information it should not be retained for more than 180 days unless pertinent to an ongoing mission or investigation, in which case it must be maintained in a system of records covered by the Privacy Act of 1974. 

Information not maintained in the system should not be disseminated outside of the retaining agency unless for an authorized purpose.

Government agencies must review these policies at least every three years to keep up with changes in technology and ensure protection of privacy.

According to the president, UAS use should not violate first amendment rights and measures should be taken to ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties complaints can be properly investigated.

Agencies using UAS, or who plan to use them, should ensure there is proper oversight on UAS policies and all policies and rules of conduct are established before they acquire a system.

To maintain transparency, agencies will have to provide notice to the public regarding where they are authorized to use UAS in the national airspace system, keep the public informed about changes to UAS programs and annually release a description of UAS operations from the previous year.

Agencies will also have a year to publish information on how to access their publicly available UAS policies and procedures and 180 days to inform the president of their status in implementing the guidelines set forth in the memorandum.

The administration also establishes a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop best practices for privacy, accountability and transparency for commercial and private UAS use in the National Airspace System. Within 90 days, the Department of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will initiate this process with other interested agencies.

<< Back to the News