Do Drones Raise Unique Privacy Concerns?

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Fall Technology Series

On October 13, 2016 I will be a speaker at the Federal Trade Commission’s Fall Technology Series.

Americans are increasingly familiar with drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). These devices have become one of consumers’ most popular technology purchases; some estimate nearly one million new drones will be purchased in 2016. Many consumer drones are controlled by tablet or smartphone, and feature high-definition cameras, GPS, and the ability to fly autonomously.

Commercially available drones are even more sophisticated, and are increasingly used for a variety of activities, including monitoring and inspection, news reporting, search and rescue of missing persons, and delivery of commercial packages or medicine to rural areas. With potential to transform entire industries, the devices may generate significant economic benefits. Although drones may offer society numerous benefits, the potential for information collection through filming, photography or other types of monitoring raises the potential for consumer harms including invasion of privacy, identification, trespass, and harassment.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently convened multi-stakeholder meetings to develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private drone use. The drones workshop will explore the following questions related to commercial uses of drones:

What are the present capabilities of drone technologies? What technology do we foresee in the near future? In the longer term? What privacy concerns do drones raise? Are these concerns unique to drones, or are drones no different from other technologies? For people whose information may be captured by drones, what is the best way to provide transparency?  Given the difficulties of providing consumers with meaningful choices, what should the rules around privacy look like?
Should there be limits on data collection or limits on use?

Jamie Hine/Kate White
Federal Trade Commission


Gregory McNeal
Professor of Law and Public Policy, Pepperdine University School of Law Co-Founder, AirMap
Jeramie D. Scott
Director, EPIC Domestic Surveillance Project
Brendan Schulman
Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs, DJI
Kara Calvert
Director, Drone Manufacturers Alliance

University of Washington: Drones, Privacy, and Surveillance


On Thursday November 1st, at 12 noon I will be making a presentation entitled Drones on the Homefront: Privacy at Risk?  This presentation is based on my paper Drones and Privacy Governance, a short abstract of that paper appears below. 

Unmanned systems (drones) and other technological innovations raise serious questions about modern conceptions of privacy. This paper examines the constitutional doctrine related to aerial surveillance and technology, and finds that current doctrine is unlikely to prevent the use of unmanned systems. The paper next addresses calls to create a statutory requirement that will subject the use of unmanned systems to the warrant requirement. These calls are rejected because they fail to protect privacy, while unnecessarily hampering legitimate law enforcement efforts. To best protect privacy, the paper suggests various mechanisms of democratically centered privacy governance, and a regulatory regime to govern the use of unmanned systems. The paper’s appendix includes a model bill appropriate for adoption by cities, states, and the federal government. The bill outlines the various privacy governance measures discussed in the body of the paper. 

Emerging Trends in Modern Warfare Conference

Emerging Trends in Modern Warfare Conference



The Emerging Trends in Modern Warfare conference will consist of two panels discussing different changes that are happening in the ways the United States military operates. The first panel focuses on the practical operational considerations that are necessary when people from the military, law enforcement, and intelligence communities work together and how this convergence is actually working in the field. The second panel focuses on the Constitutional, International Humanitarian Law, and Law of Armed Conflict issues that arise when these components operate together overseas.



Sept. 21, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.


Seminar rooms 4 and 5 (S-4 and S-5). University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law 3200 Fifth Ave. Sacramento, CA 95817 Map & Directions


  • General Admission — $20
  • MCLE Credit (Pacific McGeorge Alumni) — $25
  • MCLE Credit (non-Alumni) — $40
  • Students and Pacific McGeorge Faculty — Free
  • Register & Pay


For more information, please call 916.739.7138 or send an email to


8:30 to 9 a.m. Breakfast & Registration
9:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Opening Remarks
9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m Panel 1: The Operational Convergence Between the Military, the Intelligence Community, and Law Enforcement

  • Herb Brown, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Dana Dyson, Deputy Chief, CIA Office of General Counsel’s Operations Division
  • James Schmidli, Deputy General Counsel for Operations, Defense Intelligence Agency
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Lunch
12:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. Panel 2: Constitutional and International Legal Challenges Related to Modern Warfare Tactics, Technology, and Practices

  • Professor John Sims, University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law
  • Ms. Anne Quintin, International Committee of the Red Cross
  • Professor Gregory McNeal, Pepperdine University School of Law
2:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. Closing Remarks


What the Future Holds: Balancing Law, Liberty and National Security

On Friday November 4, 2011 The Florida International Law Review will host their Fall 2011 Symposium.  The topic is What the Future Holds: Balancing Law, Liberty and National Security.  I will be participating in Panel III- Looking Back to Shape the Future: How Foreign Policy will Affect Law, Liberty and National Security.

Here is the symposium teaser:
The rise of transnational terrorism and evolving threats to the national security of the United States has forced remarkable changes in United States foreign and domestic policy. The United States’ various strategies and policies for coping with these threats are celebrated by some and rejected by others. This symposium will focus on the law as well as related policy, political, and societal implications of national security policy. How do we balance liberty and individual freedoms with national security in today’s America? Where do we go from here?

The full schedule appears after the break.


Technology & Learning Faculty Conference: Increasing Student Engagement and Measuring Learning with Clickers


On September 14, 2011 Pepperdine University will be hosting its Inaugural Technology & Learning Faculty Conference.  I will be presenting on Increasing Student Engagement and Measuring Learning with Clickers.

Here is an excerpt from the program:

Professor of Law Gregory McNeal is no novice to teaching with technology. Professor McNeal, who teaches in a traditional lecture style, talks about using clickers to gain feedback from students and engage with them in the classroom. In this session you will experience what his students experience as he takes you through a lesson focused on the-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard in a homicide case. This interactive presentation will demonstrate how clicker technology facilitates learning and critical thinking, and allows for immediate assessment. If you are interested in using clickers in your classroom, you should consider attending this session.


My presentation will demonstrate the use of Turning Technologies clickers (pictured at right).

The full agenda appears below:





Policy Paralysis and Homeland Security: A Review of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism by Stewart Baker

I recently reviewed Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism, by Stewart Baker former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security Policy.  The review appears in Engage, Volume 11, Issue 3, December 2010. I’ve pasted the text of the review below.

Policy Paralysis and Homeland Security:  A Review of Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism

The Department of Homeland Security is paralyzed by civil-libertarian privacy advocates, business interests, and bureaucratic turf battles. The result of this paralysis is a bias toward the status quo that is preventing the United States from protecting the homeland. According to Stewart Baker, in his must read book Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism (Hoover, 2010), this policy dynamic, combined with exponential advances in technology are key threats to U.S. national security.

As this review was going to print, the news was filled with the story of a video that went viral; in the video a passenger was subjected to an intrusive TSA pat down after he refused to pass through a full-body scanner. Privacy groups seized on the controversy, as the ACLU declared “Homeland Security wants to see you naked” and that “the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these machines or whether they justify the invasion of privacy involved.”1 One cannot fault the ACLU for questioning whether these systems are effective—in fact the GAO raised similar questions, inquiring as to whether the full-body scanners would have prevented the Christmas Day bombing attempt.2 What one can fault them for, though, is what Baker describes as advocating for “suffocating controls” on the information the U.S. gathers about suspected terrorists and how it is used (p.27). Consider this telling example recounted by Baker:

I started to believe that some of the privacy groups just objected in principle to any use of technology that might help catch criminals or terrorists. The example I remember best was when the police at Logan Airport got handheld computers. The computers were connected to public databases so they could check addresses and other information when they stopped someone. It was pretty much what any businessman could do already with a Blackberry or iPhone. Th e American Civil Liberties Union went nuts. The executive director of the Massachusetts chapter called the handhelds “mass scrutiny of the lives and activities of innocent people,” and “a violation of the core democratic principles that the government should not be permitted to violate a person’s privacy, unless it has a reason to believe that he or she is involved in wrongdoing.”  (p.27)

These were computers tied to public databases that any citizen could search, and still privacy groups fought tooth and nail to prevent their use. Stories and anecdotes like this one appear throughout Skating on Stilts as Baker recounts his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security as Assistant Secretary for Policy. Such stories reveal just how entrenched interest group politics are, and illustrate how resistance to change in the name of privacy has unintended consequences like the pat downs we are now witnessing at the airport. Stewart’s personal quips and observations also liven up the policy discussion, which is accessible even for the non-national security law and policy specialist. For example, when recounting the handheld computer flap above, Stewart writes, “If the ACLU considered that a civil liberties disaster . . . we’d better not tell them that we also have access to the White Pages” (p.28).

Click “Read the full entry” below to continue reading.