Home > UAVs > The flip side of drone privacy – personal details of UAV operators exposed

The flip side of drone privacy – personal details of UAV operators exposed

People have been registering domain names for years and many years ago someone realized that being able to anonymously register a domain name might be a good idea. There is now a proxy system in place that enables the owner to provide their real contact information but to hide it from casual observers. And there is a recent fight to keep this system in place to help prevent web site owners from being doxed and swatted.

The FAA probably should have considered doing something similar before requiring N numbers for all UAVs. Huh? Unless you are a pilot, or have gone through a Section 333 petition you probably didn’t know that most aircraft require an N number. That number is prominently displayed somewhere on the aircraft and it associates the aircraft with a specific person or organization for all the world to see.

So what is the privacy issue? “All the world to see.” Try this:

  1. Go to the FAA N number query site – http://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/NNum_Inquiry.aspx
  2. Click on “Make / Model”
  3. Enter “DJI” in the “Manufacturer Name” field
  4. Find an entry where the name field is just “DJI”
  5. Click on one of the states listed in the second column

There is potentially a lot of personal information there, particularly if you didn’t know what was going to happen when you filed for your N number. When I applied for a 333 exemption, I did so as a company and the company’s address is not my home address. Sure, someone can still work their way back to my physical location but why make it easy?

Two take home points:

  1. If you can, file for your N number using an address that is not your home physical address
  2. The FAA clearly didn’t think ahead when requiring N numbers for UAVs. Let’s guess that there will be 500,000 UAVs flying in the US within five years. That is a lot of paperwork to file for all those N numbers, and a lot of personal data available to innocent or malicious people

Maybe the FAA should take a tip from the DNS world and provide a proxy service for UAV operators? I agree that the data should be collected (and this may not be a majority opinion) but I also feel that it should be somewhat protected.

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Categories: UAVs
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