On Sunday, the White House released a memorandum that outlines privacy protections that federal agencies must take when they use drones, and directs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to work with the private sector to establish voluntary privacy practices for commercial drone use.

The White House issued the memorandum on the same day that the Federal Aviation Administration released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to allow limited commercial use of drones.

The memorandum primarily focuses on the government’s use of drones. Federal agencies currently use drones for a wide range of purposes, such as monitoring forest fires and protecting borders. Among the White House’s new restrictions on the federal government’s use of drones:

  • Federal agencies that use drones must notify the public about where they plan to operate the drones in the national airspace, inform the public about any changes that might affect privacy and civil liberties, and provide the public with an annual summary of the agency’s drone operations during the previous year. Agencies are not required to provide information that could “reasonably be expected to compromise law enforcement or national security.”
  • Federal agencies must review their use of drones at least every three years to ensure that the use complies with the federal Privacy Act. The agencies must ensure that they only collect information pursuant for an authorized purpose. Agencies also may not retain personally identifiable information that is collected via drone for more than 180 days, unless the retention is necessary for an authorized mission or subject to another exception. The memorandum also restricts the dissemination of information collected via drones.
  • Agencies must ensure that their policies prohibit the collection, use, retention, or dissemination of drone information in a manner that violates the First Amendment or civil rights laws. Agencies also must “ensure that adequate procedures are in place to receive, investigate, and address, as appropriate, privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties complaints.”
  • Agencies must establish policies, oversight procedures, and training to prevent misuse of information collected via drones.
  • State and local government agencies that receive federal grants for drone purchases must safeguard individual privacy and civil liberties. For commercial drone use, the memorandum directs the NTIA, within 90 days, to begin a multi-stakeholder engagement process for voluntary best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues.