Privacy watchdog EFF concerned about drones flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS)

Privacy watchdog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is very concerned about the advance of drone flights Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) of the pilot. According to the EFF, there is a risk that low-flying drones will collect all kinds of information about people through cameras and other sensors. That information can then possibly be shared with governments.

Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS)

In most , drones are currently only allowed to be used within sight distance of the pilot. But thanks to technological and procedural innovations, drone flights over longer distances are slowly coming within reach. The drone then flies out of the pilot's view. This is also called Beyond Visual line of Sight.

flying brings all kinds of new applications, such as delivering parcels, transporting emergency medical supplies, or carrying out inspections over long distances. Many companies can't wait to get started with BVLOS drone operations.

Collection information

However, the EFF is very concerned about the rise of BVLOS drone flights. Drones can be equipped with all kinds of sensors, including cameras, laser scanners, or Wi-Fi sniffers. It is not inconceivable that during every flight, they collect information about people on the ground and their territory. Because drones fly over relatively low, they can observe more details than, for example, satellites. In addition, AI applications such as license plate, or facial recognition entail other privacy aspects.

According to EFF, the American aviation authority, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), does not set sufficient privacy requirements for drone-operators who want to fly BVLOS. According to Andres Arrieta of the EFF, this needs to change:

“Because drones fly over your home, traditional barriers to protect your privacy, such as fences, do not apply. Drones can see into your garden and have a better view of your private life.”

An additional problem is that the data collected by companies sometimes ends up in the hands of governments. EFF cites 's Ring doorbell camera as an example. In the past, recordings made with this camera were shared with investigative services without the users' permission.


The EFF makes several recommendations to the FAA. For example, drone-operators should be obliged to inform the public about the type and purpose of the planned BVLOS drone operations. In addition, operators should describe how data is collected and how it is processed. A privacy impact assessment should be a standard part of every BVLOS permit application.

You can read the white paper en letter of dissent the EFF submitted to the FAA and the UAS BVLOS ARC.

Photo courtesy of the EFF.

This article first appeared on Dronewatch and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

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Wiebe de Jager
Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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