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An expected proliferation of unmanned aircraft in U.S. skies over the next few years is generating concern among civil libertarians and citizens about safety and privacy, and the nation's drone makers are taking heed.
The Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Arlington, Va., has published a code of conduct for manufacturers and operators of the thousands of drone aircraft that are expected to be flying in U.S. airspace by 2015.
"We want everybody to know that this technology will be handled safely and with the utmost respect to individuals' privacy," said Ben Gielow, the association's general counsel and government relations manager. "Ultimately, public confidence is needed in fielding these systems."
But critics are unimpressed. Unresolved, they say, are worries about how commercial planes and small, low-flying drones can safely share the same airspace. Also, there are privacy concerns about the drones' use of high-powered cameras as they fly above backyard pool parties and other private activities.
It "does not go far enough to recognize the very real threat to privacy posed by surveillance drones flying in the U.S. and makes no actual and enforceable commitments to protect individuals' civil liberties and privacy rights," she said.
The two-page code recommends when and by whom drones should be flown to minimize risk. It also calls on drone operators to comply with all federal, state and local laws and to cooperate with authorities at all levels. In addition, the guidelines commit to respecting other users of the airspace, the privacy of individuals and the concerns of the public and to improving public awareness.