After a remarkably speedy bureaucratic process, a US government task force finally released the details of new rules on hobby drones. The 14-page document confirms earlier reports that pretty much all drones will need to be registered. It also includes a mysterious FOIA exemption.
Let's start with the basics. The new rules — which could still change before they're implemented — will require anyone over the age of 13 who buys a drone weighing more than 250 grams to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration. The process seems intentionally streamlined since it's all online and doesn't cost a penny. Only the new drone owner's name and address will be required, and a certificate of registration will be emailed to the registrant right after completing the process. The registrant can also send in the aircraft's serial number, otherwise, the registration number must be posted on the aircraft itself. (Just like real planes!)
Here's the weird part. While the report details a host of debates over how to register drones, it also states very plainly that the registration data will be exempt from FOIA requests:
Because this new requirement will impact unmanned aircraft owners who do not have the means to protect their identities and addresses behind corporate structures (as some manned aircraft owners currently do), it is important for the FAA to take all possible steps to shield the information of privately owned aircraft from unauthorised disclosure, including issuing an advance statement that the information collected will be considered to be exempt from disclosure under FOIA.
It's hard to read that paragraph and not think about the FBI's secret air force or any other covert aerial surveillance. Then again, it's possible that companies would want to fly drones under the radar for research and development, but the American public is pretty wary of spy programs lately. The report also makes it unclear how registration for home-built drones will work, though there's still time to clarify.
Obviously, some hobbyists are already pissed about the idea that pretty much all drones will need to be registered. Since 250 grams isn't much, these rules would mean that registration would be required for hundreds of thousands of smaller drones. This sort of seems like a one-time inconvenience in a new category of gadgets that was bound to be regulated at some point. After all, drones have a tendency to cause problems in the wild.
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