The debate over drones and privacy is just one facet of a broader policy battle surrounding the future of the unmanned craft.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee discuss drones. | Getty
As companies like Amazon and Google forge ahead with plans to develop their own drones, a White House effort to ensure these unmanned vehicles don’t spy on consumers is sputtering along — and seems destined to produce weak privacy protections that the government will struggle to enforce.
For almost a year, the Obama administration has tried to corral tech companies and consumer groups, hoping they can draft some basic privacy rules before a wave of new commercial drones are allowed to take to the skies and begin delivering packages or snapping photos.
But the safeguards under discussion aren’t so much new rules as they are general, broad suggestions for companies to be on their best behavior — with little in the way of penalties. That’s already a win for tech giants: Data is Silicon Valley’s lifeblood, and many companies long have lobbied against any restrictions on how they tap troves of consumer information to deliver new services and make money.
And there’s a chance the whole effort could fall apart. The last time the Obama administration sought to broker a consensus around a set of privacy protections, consumer groups walked away over what they blasted as industry intransigence.
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