As the US prepares to see more drones aloft in coming years, President Barack Obama is taking steps to ensure that the government respects privacy and civil liberties when it uses the unmanned aircraft to collect information. Obama issued a memorandum to federal agencies today specifying measures to guard against abuse of data collected in drone flights. Among other steps, the order requires agencies to review privacy and civil rights protections before deploying drone technology and to follow a range of controls. Personally identifiable information collected in drone flights is to be kept no longer than 180 days, although there are exceptions. But the proposal includes safety restrictions such as keeping drones within sight of operators at all times and no nighttime flights. That could mean no package or pizza deliveries by drone.
"[Unmanned aerial systems] are a potentially transformative technology in diverse fields such as agriculture, law enforcement, coastal security, military training, search and rescue, first responder medical support, critical infrastructure inspection, and many others," the White House said in a statement, per the Hill. "The administration is committed to promoting the responsible use of this technology, strengthening privacy safeguards and ensuring full protection of civil liberties." It's questionable whether such steps will satisfy civil liberties advocates, who've objected strongly to the government's vigorous use of digital surveillance in the name of national security.