DHS Official Sees Government, Public Finding Common Ground on Drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles pose a range of policy challenges related to privacy and surveillance, among other things, but panelists at an event held December 16 by the Center for Strategic & International Studies expressed confidence that common ground can be found. Timothy Bennett, program manager at the Department of Homeland Security’s directorate of science and technology, said the government has been working with Google, Inc., Facebook, Inc., and others, which need the government to come up with procedures governing the use of unmanned aerial devices. “We listen to them, what their needs are, and are helping them to develop their processes, and then we take those back and the FAA and NASA listen to them,” Mr. Bennett said.  “We’re finding out what they need … and how we can deconflict all the problems.”

“We have a huge force working together on this,” Mr. Bennett said.  “We’re not fighting with the public on this. … I think we’re going to have a very good way of working on this in the next one to two years.”

Former Deputy Secretary of DHS James Loy agreed that unmanned aerial systems is “one of those areas that demands a public-private partnership.”

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said his group’s biggest concern is that “unmanned systems not be used for mass surveillance.”  The fear is that they could be used to, “like the NSA, collect everything about everybody, just in case it becomes of use later,” he said.

Mr. Stanley also cautioned that initiatives to limit uses of unmanned systems should not be too restrictive.  He pointed to a law proposed in New Jersey that would ban the use of drones to photograph critical infrastructure, but that is so broad that it would cover photographs of New Jersey Turnpike tollbooths.  “If it’s nuclear power plants, we don’t necessarily have a problem,” he said.  “But this is construed so broadly.” – Brian Hammond, brian.hammond@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily