White House working on privacy guidelines for consumer drones

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Drones are a hot topic these days — not just the ones flying over Pakistan, but the growing number of lightweight and camera-equipped devices flying through American air. These consumer drones are on the verge of transforming a range of industries, from farming to news gathering, but are also creating conflicts — like this one at the beach — as people fear for their privacy.

In response, President Obama is preparing an executive order to develop privacy guidelines for commercial drones. According to Politico, the details are still under wraps but the White House has confirmed that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is bringing together companies and consumer groups to create a voluntary set of best practices.

The process may give a boost to consumer drone advocates, who believe that the many positive stories about drones, such as their role in search-and-rescue operations, are drowned out by sensationalist headlines about spying.

The term “drone” itself is controversial among some advocates, who prefer terms like “UAV” or unmanned-aerial-vehicle. But it appears to have caught on as more consumers and companies launch the devices.

The executive order process also comes as the FAA continues to fumble the process of developing rules to integrate unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace. The agency has banned the use of almost any commercial drone but it appears to have no legal basis for doing so. Right now, the FAA’s authority over drones near airports is clear, but otherwise it appears the power to police drones lies with state and local authorities.

As the legal details get sorted out, companies are pushing forward with all sorts of consumer drone plans. Amazon is chafing to start “Air Prime,” while drone start-up Airware just raised $25 million to build out its drone software that will let the devices used in more industries.

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