A coalition of 22 leading news media organizations submitted public comments this week to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to guide the agency's process to establish best practices for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones. The coalition's comments describe the fundamental First Amendment principles it believes should guide deliberations of any potential privacy issues arising from the operation of UAS.

On February 15, 2015, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum that directed NTIA to establish "a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop and communicate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private UAS use."

As part of the NTIA multistakeholder process, the News Media Coalition has set forth the following principles to ensure that First Amendment protections are incorporated into privacy best practices: 

  • government-endorsed best practices cannot restrict the First Amendment or require journalists to defend use of images collected by UAS on a case by case basis
  • existing technology-agnostic state laws, rather UAS specific-laws at either the federal or state level, are the appropriate way to address privacy concerns
  • images and sounds gathered in public places are not private and should not be entitled to protection
  • editorial decisions, including decisions about data collection and retention, must be left to journalists 
  • an industry-specific approach to privacy issues and drone use is preferable to a one-size-fits-all approach

Read the coalition's public comments.

The NTIA is expected to consider the coalition's comments and a series of best practices at its next multistakeholder meeting on Friday, November 20. These public comments are intended to respond to previous best practices proposed in the NTIA process that may have a significant, technology-specific impact on the media's ability to gather, retain and use images taken by UAS in public places. The coalition's public comments are designed to ensure that any system of best practices for UAS operations also safeguards the public's fundamental First Amendment rights.

The news media coalition submitting these comments is comprised of the following companies: Advance Publications, Inc., A.H. Belo Corp., American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., American Society of Media Photographers, The Associated Press, Capitol Broadcasting Co., Cox Media Group, LLC, Fusion Media Network, LLC, Gannett Co., Inc., Getty Images (US), Inc., MPA - The Association of Magazine Media, National Press Photographers Association, NBCUniversal Media, LLC, The New York Times Company, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reuters, The E.W. Scripps Company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., Society of Professional Journalists, Student Press Law Center, TEGNA, Inc., and WP Company LLC.