Aerial Surveillance

Aerial Surveillance includes monitoring by small hand-launched drones, unmanned aircraft, and human-piloted surveillance planes. EPIC is concerned about the use of aircraft to record photos and videos, intercept cell-phone communications, and intimidate the public. The combination of aerial surveillance with facial recognition and license-plate reader identification technologies can enable comprehensive monitoring of individuals movements.

EPIC works to impose limits on the use of surveillance aircraft and drones by the government and advocates for regulation of private and corporate use of drones.

Top News

  • FAA Announces Final Rule for Remote Drone ID + (Jan. 6, 2021)
    The Federal Aviation Administration posted the agency's final rule for remote drone identification. The final rule will require all drones to broadcast drone ID information in real-time, eliminating the option in the proposed rule to forgo real-time broadcast and only submit drone ID information for retention by a third party. EPIC previously commented on the FAA's proposed rule, urging the FAA to require all drones to provide real-time public access to drone ID information. In 2015, EPIC argued that drones should be required to broadcast relevant information to the public while in operation.
  • Federal Government Advises on Federal Laws Potentially Violated When Intercepting Drones + (Aug. 19, 2020)
    The FAA, DOJ, FCC, and DHS jointly issued the "Advisory on the Application of Federal Laws to the Acquisition and Use of Technology to Detect and Mitigate Unmanned Aircraft Systems." The advisory covers the applicable federal laws that non-federal or private entities might violate if they sought to detect or mitigate drone threats, including the Wiretap Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Congress previously granted the DOJ and DHS broad authority to detect and mitigate drone "threats" in the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 that was incorporated into the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 required a report on drone surveillance risks but did not establish any baseline privacy safeguards. EPIC has repeatedly urged both Congress and the FAA to take decisive action to limit the use of drones for surveillance and to establish a national database detailing drone surveillance capabilities.
  • EPIC Urges FAA to Require Privacy Safeguards With Exemption Grants + (Aug. 5, 2020)
    In comments to the Federal Aviation Administration, EPIC reminded the agency of the importance of addressing the privacy risks of drones as they are integrated into the national airspace. EPIC was responding to a notice of a petition for exemption to conduct drone deliveries. EPIC urged the FAA to use the exemption process to require the implementation of privacy safeguards. Starting with a 2012 petition, EPIC has recommended that the FAA establish drone privacy regulations and to ensure that drones broadcast an ID. Earlier this year, EPIC, joined by other organizations, submitted comments to the FAA regarding the agency's proposed rule for drone IDs.
  • More top news

  • EPIC Settles FOIA Case Regarding DHS Drone Reports + (May. 13, 2020)
    EPIC settled a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security to obtain public release of a drone status report and other related documents required by a 2015 Presidential Memorandum. The memorandum required the report to detail the status of implementing privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights protections against DHS' use of surveillance drones. The 2015 DHS status report attempted to justify the use of drones by Customs and Border Protection, but a 2018 Inspector General report called into question the CBP's drone privacy policies and procedures. The Inspector General found that CBP failed to complete a required analysis for a drone surveillance system and failed to implement effective safeguards for information collected by drones. EPIC has called on Congress to "establish drone privacy safeguards that limit the risk of public surveillance."
  • EPIC to Argue for Disclosure of FAA Drone Committee Records + (May. 12, 2020)
    EPIC Counsel John Davisson will argue before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday morning in EPIC's open government case against the FAA Drone Advisory Committee. The argument is scheduled to begin around 10 a.m. EPIC filed suit in 2018 against the industry-dominated committee, which largely ignored the privacy risks posed by the deployment of drones—even after identifying privacy as a top public concern. As a result of EPIC's lawsuit, the committee was forced to disclose hundreds of pages of records. But a lower court ruled that the agency could withhold records from the committee's secretive working groups. EPIC recently told the Court of Appeals that the FAA's interpretation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act would undermine the open meetings law. The case is EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee, No. 19-5238 (D.C. Cir.).
  • Privacy Safeguards Lacking for FAA Drone Registration System + (Apr. 20, 2020)
    The Inspector General for the Department of Transportation released an report of the FAA's drone integration system, which includes personal data for drone registration. The IG report found that the "FAA did not adequately assess privacy and security controls for protecting PII." The report also found that the "FAA's inadequate monitoring of security controls increases the risk of the systems being compromised." EPIC stated that "the FAA should adopt safeguards to protect registrants' information from improper release." EPIC also warned that "the FAA's proposed rule fails to consider the privacy implications for recreational drone operators" who will be required to provide personal information.
  • EPIC Celebrates Sunshine Week with 2020 FOIA Gallery + (Mar. 16, 2020)
    In celebration of Sunshine Week, EPIC has unveiled the 2020 FOIA Gallery. Since 2001, EPIC has annually published highlights of EPIC's most significant open government cases. For example, last year EPIC filed the first lawsuit in the country for the public release of the Mueller Report. The federal court rebuked Attorney General Barr and agreed to review the complete Mueller Report to determine what additional material must be released. EPIC also prevailed in EPIC v. the Commission on AI. A federal court ruled that the Commission on Artificial Intelligence is subject to the FOIA. Following the court's decision, the AI Commission released documents about its activities to EPIC. In this year's FOIA gallery, EPIC also highlighted pre-trial risk assessment reports, documents about Justice Kavanaugh's role in the warrantless surveillance program, a DHS drone status report, the Census data transfer plan, and more than 29,000 complaints against Facebook pending at the FTC.
  • EPIC Pursues Disclosure of FAA Drone Committee Records + (Mar. 3, 2020)
    EPIC has filed a reply brief in EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee urging the D.C. Circuit to reverse a decision that allowed FAA to conduct much of its policy work on drones in secret. EPIC filed suit in 2018 against the industry-dominated Advisory Committee, which ignored the privacy risks posed by the deployment of drones—even after identifying privacy as a top public concern. As a result of EPIC's lawsuit, the Committee was forced to disclose hundreds of pages of records to EPIC, but the agency withheld records from subcommittees that participated in the policy process. EPIC told the Court of Appeals that the FAA's interpretation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act would circumvent the open meetings law. The case is EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee, No. 19-5238 (D.C. Cir.).
  • EPIC, Coalition Urge Real Time Remote ID for All Drones + (Mar. 3, 2020)
    EPIC, joined by other organizations, submitted comments to the FAA regarding the agency's proposed rule for drone IDs. EPIC urged the FAA to require real-time public access to drone ID information. EPIC also recommended that the FAA provide privacy protections for recreational users and conduct a privacy impact assessment of the risks associated with drone surveillance. In 2015, EPIC wrote "Drones should be required to broadcast their registration information to allow members of the public" to easily identify the operator and to determine the location, purpose, and surveillance capabilities of the drone. The European Union has established a drone regulation similar to the one EPIC has recommend the FAA to adopt. The Interior Department recently grounded Chinese-made drones, warning of surveillance risks.
  • American Bar Association Adopts New Drone Privacy and Election Security Resolutions + (Feb. 20, 2020)
    This week the American Bar Association adopted new policies for the security of elections and the regulation of drone operations. Under the election cybersecurity policy, the ABA will urge Congress to provides funding to NIST to set election security standards, provide funding to secure state systems, and encourage state and local governments to secure election systems. Last year a federal court ruled that Georgia must replace its insecure voting machines, citing EPIC's amicus brief that highlighted the unreliable nature of paperless voting systems. EPIC continues to seek release of DHS records concerning ongoing election security risks. The ABA also adopted a drone privacy policy that will encourage federal, state, and local governments to regulate the deployment of drones. EPIC first petitioned the FAA to promulgate drone privacy regulations in 2012, has sued to obtain records of the agency's secretive drone advisory committees, and EPIC recently launched a Mandate Drone ID Campaign.
  • EPIC Launches Drone ID Campaign, Urges Action by FAA + (Feb. 12, 2020)
    Today EPIC has launched "Mandate Drone ID" to encourage the public to submit comments to the FAA regarding the agency's proposed rule for a drone ID requirement. EPIC recommends that the FAA modify the draft rule to require public access to drone ID information, including the operator identity, the purpose, and the surveillance capabilities. In 2015, EPIC wrote "Drones should be required to broadcast their registration information to allow members of the public" to easily identify the operator and responsible party. EPIC has recommended that the FAA follow the model for vessels and planes, which requires operators to broadcast location, course, and operator identity, The European Union has established real-time broadcasting requirement similar to the one EPIC has previously encouraged the FAA to implement. Comments on the FAA proposed rule are due March 2, 2020.
  • House Votes to Ban Foreign-made Drones at DHS + (Feb. 11, 2020)
    The House passed H.R. 4357, which bans the use or purchase of foreign-made drones by the Department of Homeland Security. Last month, the Interior Department banned the use of foreign-made drones for non-emergency operations. The US government actions respond to growing concern that Chinese-made drones collect sensitive information in the United States. In 2012, EPIC and more than 100 experts petitioned the FAA to establish a rule to limit drones surveillance, but the agency failed to act. In recent comments to the FAA, EPIC warned the agency that regulating drone surveillance was essential to privacy and security. Last year, EPIC's Marc Rotenberg and Len Kennedy cited the FAA's failure to develop appropriate regulations in a commentary for the New York Times, and also warned that China's surveillance model requires "comprehensive privacy legislation to safeguard the personal data of Americans."
  • Interior Department Will Ground Chinese-made Drones + (Jan. 29, 2020)
    The Interior Department announced today it will ban Chinese-made drones for non-emergency use. The Secretary's Order responds to growing concerns that information collected by aerial drones could be "valuable to foreign entities, organizations and governments." In 2012, EPIC and more than 100 experts petitioned the FAA to establish a privacy rule for drones, but the agency failed to act. Last year EPIC's Marc Rotenberg and Len Kennedy cited the FAA's failure, and also warned that China's surveillance model requires "comprehensive privacy legislation to safeguard the personal data of Americans." Senator Chris Murphy [D-CT] and Senator Rick Scott [R-FL] have introduced S. 2502, the American Security Drone Act of 2019 that would prevent federal agencies from purchasing drones manufactured in China.

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