Assembly committee discusses UAV privacy concerns

Legislators and experts hashed out privacy concerns connected to the increased push to integrate commercial unmanned aircraft vehicles into civilian airspace during a committee meeting Tuesday.

The California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee heard testimony from three different panels, including industry experts, law enforcement representatives and privacy advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D – Hayward) fired off a concern over how the state could regulate the use of unmanned aerial systems once the Federal Aviation Administration completed its task of integrating use of the devices into the national airspace in 2015.

“How do you regulate something like this?” Quirk asked. “The ease with which surveillance can be done is becoming more common.”

Quirk said he understood the positives that commercial UAVs could provide for law enforcement agencies, but expressed concern about potential abuse in private hands.

UAVs – referred to as drones – have largely been utilized by the military and federal government, and to some limited extent by local law enforcement agencies. With the eventual integration into the commercial sector, privacy continues to be a concern.

YangQuan Chen, a professor of engineering from UC Merced, said the goal should be focused more on safety and technology instead of just privacy.

“My belief is that we will find a common ground on matters of privacy,” he said. He said he doubted that the ability to peek inside someone’s home by a neighbor was likely in the near future.

Chen added that there was a distinction between drones and UAVs based on the technology as a whole.

“Drones are less intelligent in terms of autonomy and really lacks sense-and-avoid technology,” Chen said.

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