The Federal Aviation Administration released what it called a road map Thursday that sets the stage for law enforcement agencies, businesses, universities and hobbyists to fly remotely piloted aircraft, better known as drones, inside the United States by 2015.
The 74-page document was criticized by some privacy advocates, who say the FAA needs to clarify how the government and private users can use video and other data from the unarmed surveillance drones, and how long it can be stored.
Michael P. Huerta, the FAA administrator, estimated that 7,500 small drones could be flying in U.S. skies within five years if regulations are written on schedule. He said the chief concern is writing requirements for drone design and pilot training to prevent unmanned planes from colliding with other aircraft.
"We have operational goals and safety issues we need to consider as we expand the use of unmanned aircraft," Huerta told an aerospace conference Thursday in Washington.
More than 80 law enforcement agencies now have agreements with the FAA to fly drones, Huerta said, and universities are testing drones for weather forecasting, agriculture and industrial uses.
By the end of this year, the FAA will choose test sites in six states where manufacturers can bring their drones for evaluation by federal safety experts, Huerta said. The results will help regulators write the rules, he said.
According to the FAA, the state governments or universities that oversee the test sites must describe their policies for privacy, data use and data retention. The document released Thursday does not delineate those polices other than to say that companies flying drones must "comply with federal, state and other laws on individual privacy protection."
Ryan Calo, who teaches robotics law at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, said the "road map" shows that FAA officials are at least considering privacy concerns.
"Here they are taking a different tack and embracing the idea that privacy is a necessary consideration," Calo said in a telephone interview. "That is part of a change from when they were saying, 'We are not about privacy, we are really all about safety.'"
Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the FAA needs to expand the privacy requirements to include "concrete restrictions on how data from drones can be used and how long it can be stored."
The ACLU has urged Congress to support laws introduced in the House and Senate that would require police to get judicial approval before using a drone.
(c) 2013 McClatchy News Service