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Michael Rhodes
Karen Burhans

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, are quickly being outfitted to capture unprecedented amounts and types of data that companies can use for diverse commercial applications. Though it is currently unlawful to operate UAVs for commercial purposes in the United States (unless you are one of the limited number of companies granted an exemption by the Federal Aviation Administration), companies eager to capitalize on this revolutionary technology are already making plans to integrate UAVs into their business model as soon as the FAA promulgates its final rules for commercial use. But as the prospect of widespread commercial use of UAVs looms, so too does the specter of engagement over privacy implications related to the proliferation of UAVs.

Pending adoption of the FAA final rules, companies should be proactive in formulating privacy practices and policies applicable to this developing technology. Companies making plans to use UAVs should take advantage of this “pre-UAVs” period to consider whether and how they will collect data and to make plans for the appropriate collection, storage, and use of that data to protect third parties’ privacy interests and, moreover, protect the company from the reputational and economic exposure resulting from any actual or perceived misuse of third-party data. Disclosure regimes should be deliberated and implemented.

Privacy implications of potential data collection by UAVs have become a hot-button topic in the UAVs debate. Even though widespread commercial UAVs usage may not be legal for two years or more, there has been a flurry of activity at the federal level, with some calling for government regulation of privacy issues related to UAVs.

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