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Growing commercial interest and technological improvements in drones are leading to new privacy questions. Should drone operators be allowed to spy on private property? And if not, how will those laws be enforced?

President Barack Obama plans to issue an executive order that would charge the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with developing new privacy guidelines for commercial drones flown in U.S. airspace, Politico reports, though it’s not clear when the order will be issued.

“We don’t have any details to share at this time, but there is an inter-agency process underway,” White House spokesman Ned Price told Politico.

The drive to regulate drones comes in response to growing commercial interest in the technology. The Federal Aviation Administration granted permission to oil company BP earlier this summer for the first commercial drone to fly over U.S. land. And retail giant Amazon announced plans last year to develop a fleet of drones to deliver small packages — though many questioned the plausibility of that notion.

Tellingly, startup Airware landed $25 million earlier this week to develop a cloud operating system to coordinate networks of autonomous drones — a sign that entrepreneurs could start jumping to develop infrastructure for well-funded players like Amazon that want to make use of drones.

The FAA has said it will develop rules for a small commercial drone operation in U.S. airspace, though it is unlikely to do so by the September deadline set by Congress, according to an audit by the Transportation Department.

Two of the most visible users of drone technology outside of U.S. airspace, of course, are the U.S. Air Force and the CIA, which have deployed armed drones in many theaters since the 1990s. Most recently, the Obama administration’s widespread use of drones in Pakistan prompted an outcry by human rights groups.


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