Drone Day: FAA talks citizen privacy, rules for drone pilots

Updated: Jun. 15, 2017 at 3:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - When it comes to drones, privacy laws still apply to citizens and their property protection, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

"There are federal, state, and local privacy laws that apply to drone operators, just as they apply to somebody in a car, a 'Peeping Tom,' or somebody in an airplane," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

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There is also no kidding around when talking about the cardinal rules for operating an unmanned aircraft. Those rules include not flying above 400 feet, not flying over people, keeping the drone within the pilot's line of sight, and not flying near manned aircraft.

"We don't hesitate to take strong enforcement action when we come across an egregious violation, or a willful violation, or an operation that was extremely unsafe," Gregor said.

The FAA controls the skies, he said.

"Local laws should not conflict with the FAA's sole jurisdiction over the nation's airspace," he said.

But local lawmakers can take certain steps when it comes to drone activity. For example, Gregor said, if a city decided to disallow a drone pilot to take off or land on city-owned property, it would likely not conflict with FAA rules and could be approved. But if the city were to say, "you cannot fly a drone anywhere over the city's skies," it would likely conflict with the FAA's jurisdiction and not be allowed to pass.

Gregor said the department is taking new steps to figure out a relatively new thing.

"It's only the last few years where there's been an explosion in drone sales. It's actually been an incredibly exciting process. It's required us to adapt to a new technology that I think very few people foresaw would take off so quickly," he said.

Starting in December 2015, recreational drone users had to register their unmanned aircraft, and thus were exposed to critical educational components of flying. Gregor said that more than 750,000 drone users had registered their drones since that date.

But in May 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down the registration requirement. It forced the FAA to do some additional research.

"We're reviewing the court's decision, and we're in the process of considering our options and response to that decision," Gregor said.

Violating FAA rules when flying a drone, both commercially and recreationally, can be pricey. According to Gregor, an individual who violates the laws can face a fine of more than $1,437 per violation. Businesses who fly unsafely and violate the regulations can face a penalty of more than $32,666 per violation.

Should the FAA deem the violation to be more offensive, Gregor said, a person could face "federal criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to three years."

And if you think you would want to take the law into your own hands, you might want to think again. Comments on social media have had people joking about "shooting down a drone" if they see it flying over them. But according to Gregor, turning that joke into a reality can mean criminal liability.

"A private citizen shooting at any aircraft, manned or unmanned, poses a very significant safety hazard. Because an unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire can crash, which could cause injury to people or damage to property on the ground. Or it could potentially collide with another object in the air. So yes, shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in a fine or a civil penalty from the FAA and/or criminal charges from federal, state, or local law enforcement," he said.

You can learn more about the Federal Aviation Administration's B4UFLY app HERE.

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