Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its “Best Practices for Protecting Privacy, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Programs.” This guidance comes at a time when drone usage has exploded in both the public and private sectors.
It goes without saying that Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drones are now an essential part of the nation’s security and defense missions. Among numerous other things, drones protect our borders, support law enforcement and fire and rescue operations, evaluate dangerous situations and conduct inspections. However, as the co-chairs of the DHS Privacy, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties UAS Working Group (DHS Working Group) state in their Joint Statement, “These best practices represent an optimal approach to protecting individual rights that is influenced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ten years of experience using unmanned aircraft systems as a tool in protecting and securing the Nation’s borders.”
While the White House on February 15, 2015, issued a Presidential Memorandum on “Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” the DHS Best Practices “are consistent with” but expand upon the Presidential Memorandum, providing to date the most significant and detailed guidance from the government on privacy issues related to and governmental use of drones.
The Best Practices are as follows:
The DHS Working Group made it clear that, while it “neither proposes nor intends that this document regulate any other government entity,” and while “these best practices are intended for DHS and our local state and federal government partners and grantees,” it believes that “the private sector may also find these recommendations valuable and instructive in creating their unmanned aircraft system programs.” Due to the growth of the UAS industry in both the public and private sector, certainly all federal agencies with UAS programs would be wise to adopt the Best Practices, as would private-sector companies given the broad applicability of the guidance.