GEOG 892
Geospatial Applications of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

Lesson 10: UAS Safety and Privacy Concerns


Privacy Concerns

Some American citizens, including lawmakers, believe that before Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) start routinely observing Americans from above, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) needs to address two little concerns, safety, and privacy. The issue of privacy was received differently depending on who is involved in evaluating the UAS impact. Many of us believe that flying a UAS with a camera is no different from flying a helicopter during a mapping mission. However, others see it as clear invasion of their personal privacy, and they want the FAA to curb the use of the UAS in overpopulated areas. During 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committees held a hearing on UAV/UAS issue, where it was very clear that senators in both parties are worried about the threat to Americans’ privacy posed by increasing use of the unmanned aerial systems (UASs). The article "Lawmakers voice concerns on drone privacy questions" published by NBC details the outcome of the discussions occurred during that hearing.

Safety and Security Concerns

Integrating small UAS into the NAS raises concerns as unmanned airplanes pose risk by potential air collision with other airplanes or by causing properties damage or loss of life on the ground. Many people and lawmakers also have concerns about their security, as they believe that drones can be hacked and used for terrorist acts. The report "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Examining the Safety, Security, Privacy and Regulatory Issues of Integration into U.S. Airspace" provides fairly good details on the issues of UAS privacy, security, and safety.

PART 107 The Good News

The burden of concerns over privacy was lessened with the issuing of PART 107 by the FAA, as it contained no clause to regulate the use of UAS as it relates to privacy. It was the right move by the FAA as the topic is controversial and there is no easy solution for it.  However, things may change in the future as the "FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018" which was authorized by Congress during its 115th session on April 13, 2018 brought back the privacy issues to the table by mandating the FAA to carry out a review to identify any potential reduction of privacy specifically caused by the integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.


UAS is capable of collecting very high definition/resolution imagery of people's backyards and perhaps through windows. The public in the United States expressed two main opinions about allowing UAS to fly over populated areas, especially if it is used for surveillance and search and rescue missions.

Discussion Forum

  1. Review the article "Concerns Over Drone Aircraft Used in the United States; Safety and Privacy Still Concerns, GAO Reports" that discusses the privacy and safety issues of using UAS.
  2. Read the report "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Examining the Safety, Security, Privacy and Regulatory Issues of Integration into U.S. Airspace"

Express your opinion on the two following public stances:

  • "The main threat to personal privacy posed by the ever-expanding use of UAVs in U.S. airspace is the substantial potential for violations of the protection against unreasonable search and seizure ensured by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution." therefore, we should limit or prevent the use of UAS for such purposes.
  • Using UAS for such purposes should be allowed, as it is no different from allowing low-flying helicopters on an imagery acquisition mission overpopulated areas or having someone in a neighborhood carrying high resolving power pair of binoculars.

Post to the discussion board and respond to at least one posting from your peers.