DOT Hit With Lawsuit Over Lack of Records from Drone Registration Meetings

Posted by Betsy Lillian
on April 5, 2016 No Comments

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), claiming the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) did not provide requested records of last November’s drone registration task force meetings, has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the agency.

Filed yesterday, the lawsuit alleges that on Nov. 6, 2015, EPIC faxed a FOIA request to the DOT in which it sought “[a]ll documents related to the November 3-5, 2015 Task Force meeting, including, but not limited to, meeting minutes, paper or electronic handouts, and presentations.”

EPIC says the DOT confirmed the receipt of the request three days later; however, 147 days later, the organization has still not obtained the records.

“The DOT’s failure to make a determination within the statutory limit violates the FOIA,” states EPIC’s “Complaint for Injunctive Relief.”

Thus, it says, “EPIC seeks an order requiring disclosure, as soon as practicable, of all responsive, non-exempt records.”

The DOT and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first announced their drone registration initiative at an Oct. 19 press conference, where the agencies said they would be organizing a task force of industry stakeholders to come up with recommendations for the registration process.

EPIC notes that the DOT and FAA did not include “any public interest organizations or privacy experts” and that the group “met in secret” because their three-day discussions were not open to the public. The group’s recommendations were revealed in a public report a few weeks later.

The nonprofit Washington, D.C., group – which describes itself as a “public-interest research organization” that “conducts government oversight and analyzes the impact of government programs on civil liberties and privacy interests” – also filed a number of comments on Nov. 12 in response to the FAA’s request for public input on drone registration.

In the comments, EPIC said it “has repeatedly warned the FAA of the privacy and civil liberties risks posed by the deployment of drones in the United States” and urged the agency to “move quickly to establish a nationwide drone registration system.”

Almost exactly a year ago, EPIC filed a lawsuit against the FAA for “[failing] to establish privacy rules for commercial drones as mandated by Congress.” The group claimed that in February’s proposed rules for small commercial drones, the FAA “purposefully ignored privacy concerns.”

EPIC notes on its website that it “makes frequent use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from the government about surveillance and privacy policy.”

In another recent FOIA lawsuit against the FAA/DOT, a student at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law claimed in September that the FAA did not provide his requested data regarding Certificates of Waiver or Authorization for holders of commercial drone exemptions.

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