Last week, the US government made the biggest and most impactful set of changes to its drone law. As per the new law, almost every drone in US airspace will have to broadcast their locations and the location of their pilots in order to “address safety, national security, and law enforcement concerns regarding the further integration of these aircraft into the airspace of the United States”.
It seems Google is not very happy with the new rules. Google’s drone delivery subsidiary Wing wrote a somewhat fearmongering post titled “Broadcast Only Remote Identification of Drones May Have Unintended Consequences for American Consumers”.
The post argues that the FAA’s decision to have drones broadcast their location might let observers track user’s movements. Where the user lives, where and when the user receives packages can easily be tracked by the security department. The post reads “American communities would not accept this type of surveillance of their deliveries or taxi trips on the road. They should not accept it in the sky”.
However, it should be noted that the Google drone Wing is not arguing that drones shouldn’t broadcast their location, instead, it wishes they should send it through the internet instead of broadcasting it locally.
Back in 2019, when FAA first proposed the Remote ID rules, it intended internet based tracking initially but soon it received a laundry list of reasons from commenters why internet based tracking might be problematic and decided to abandon it. If you are interested in the whole argument of FAA, you can check it in its full rule (PDF) starting on page 60. FAA has spent 15 pages laying out and contemplating all the objections to internet based Remote ID!
Wing conveyed that there is merely a “license plate” for the skies that allows a drone to be identified as it flies over without necessarily sharing that drone’s complete flight path. This is sensitive data and it should not be displayed to the public. It should be only available to law enforcement. Traditionally, license plates should be within eyeshot but that is not necessarily true for a broadcasting transmitter.
FAA’s rule doesn’t actually mandate what kind of broadcasting tech drones will be required to use. Companies have a year and a half to figure this out. FAA clearly stated that the broadcast Remote ID is just the first step with an “initial framework” which means the option of internet based Remote ID can not be completely fathomed out for the future.