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President Obama Issues Presidential Memorandum on UAS Privacy

February 2015

On February 15, 2015, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum initiating a process for developing privacy guidelines for commercial and private uses of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The Memorandum accompanied the long-awaited release of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes rules to allow some commercial uses of UAS in United States' airspace. As expected, the Memorandum tasks the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with convening a multistakeholder process to develop privacy, accountability, and transparency best practices.

What Does the Executive Order Do?

In addition to proposing rules for government uses of UAS, the Presidential Memorandum establishes a multistakeholder engagement process to develop and communicate "best practices" for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS uses.  The Memorandum directs NTIA to initiate the multistakeholder process within 90 days of the date of the Memorandum and to also involve the private sector. The process will not address law enforcement or other noncommercial governmental use.

What is a Multistakeholder Process?

Multistakeholder processes aim to incorporate the views of all relevant stakeholders, from government, the private sector, civil society, and others, with the goal of generating a consensus on industry best practices or voluntary and legally enforceable codes of conduct.  Multistakeholder processes ensure that the views of all stakeholders are heard and integrated at all stages of the decision-making process through dialogue and consensus-building. The approach aims to create trust between stakeholders and solutions that provide mutual benefits.  Because of the inclusive and participatory approach, the theory behind multistakeholder processes is that the stakeholders have a greater sense of ownership for decisions made and thus are more likely to comply with them.

Has the NTIA Engaged in this Process Before?

The NTIA has used multistakeholder processes twice before to address privacy issues. Starting in June 2012, NTIA convened a series of multistakeholder meetings to develop a code of conduct for mobile app transparency. NTIA launched this process in response to the White House's call for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights in early 2012. Reaching consensus was difficult, but the process, which involved consumer groups, privacy advocates, and a wide range of businesses, concluded in July 2013, when stakeholders agreed to begin reviewing, testing, and possibly implementing a voluntary code of conduct for mobile application short notices developed through the multistakeholder process-an action NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling called a "milestone."NTIA also is in the midst of its second privacy multistakeholder process, this time regarding the commercial use of facial recognition technology. On December 3, 2012, NTIA announced its goal to develop a voluntary, enforceable code of conduct that specifies how the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights applies to facial recognition technology in the commercial context. NTIA has convened several multistakeholder meetings and additional meetings will be scheduled for this year.