When the Federal Aviation Association issued its first formal rules governing the use of commercial drones, it should have included some privacy regulations, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is arguing in a lawsuit against the agency.
The FAA has so far left privacy matters up to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). However, EPIC argues that, since Congress directed the FAA to develop "comprehensive" rules that "safely" integrate drones into US airspace, it's obligated to consider privacy issues. The advocacy group is asking the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule the drone regulations and compel the FAA to conduct further proceedings.
Earlier in the year, the NTIA issued drone privacy guidelines, which were developed with the help of privacy groups and businesses. However, they're completely voluntary guidelines, and some have argued they're too narrow in scope and plagued by loopholes.
EPIC has been pressing the FAA to tackle privacy issues for years. Back in 2012, EPIC and more than 100 other organizations petitioned the FAA to address the issue, highlighting the invasive nature of certain drone uses, like those employed by paparazzi or private detectives.
"With special capabilities and enhanced equipment, drones are able to conduct far more detailed surveillance, obtaining high-resolution picture and video, peering inside high level windows, and through solid barriers, such as fences, trees, and even walls," the petition said.
The FAA in 2014 told EPIC that privacy was "not an immediate safety concern".