FAA NPRM: major purpose is to develop a nationwide aerial surveillance system

The FAA’s NPRM directly fosters the development of a nationwide aerial surveillance system, using the fleet of commercial and recreational drones to record data all over the country and log that data in real time.

This includes close in, low altitude detailed photos of your yard, your children, your pets, businesses and their inventories and finished products, their potential expansion, and data for law enforcement.

It is right there in the NPRM itself:

“However, the proposal does not prohibit designers, producers, or operators from including a capability for limited remote identification UAS to broadcast information or data unrelated to remote identification, such as a camera feed or telemetry data.” Page 97, Section X, A, 2, Paragraph 2

KittyHawk noted in a blog post that some Remote ID USS business models may be offered for “free”.

When a service is offered or “free” it means we or our privacy are being sold for a profit.

Imagine the market value of obtaining very low altitude high resolution images of your back yard, your children, the clothing you wear, the quality of backyard furniture you have, the types of automobiles you drive, how well you care for your yard, the types of toys your children are playing with – and so much more. This information can be used to discern your household income and wealth. With modern image AI techniques, much of this image analysis can be done automatically.

Commercial drone fleets can and will be mapping your Wi-Fi networks and identifying what Bluetooth services are located inside your homes. Your own recreational drone, flying in your backyard, might be simultaneously taking photos to share with your Remote ID USS – and you might not even be aware of it.

All of this information will be collected, analyzed, interpreted, and sold to third parties.

Law enforcement may use these close range aerial images to look for suspicious activities.

Local government will use these images to check for non-compliant property uses, code violations, and home modifications without a permit. I lived in a city where putting in a portable 3 x 5 foot garden shed is treated as permit-required event, and a taxable addition to one’s property. They hired a company to conduct aerial photography to find potential violators. Now, with the data paid for by drone operators, this information will be available at much lower cost.

In that same city, if your lawn grass exceeded six inches in height, you could be subject to a code enforcement officer. For now, they only enforce that rule if a neighbor calls in a complaint. With low cost data from drones, this can be determined automatically – does not even need artificial intelligence!

Businesses will purchase low altitude photos from drone companies to keep tabs on their competitors. Analysts can discern arrivals of inventory and departures of finished products, just by counting trucks. In some cases, inventory and finished products may be stored outside and will now be accessible to competitors.

I hypothesized in a post yesterday that something was missing in this NPRM process. This week, the FAA rejected requests from the EAA and AMA to extend the comment period, and did so using unduly harsh language, stating that they needed to enact the final rule as fast as possible.

The FAA is hell bent on enacting this NPRM – an NPRM that does not even solve the problems they say they are trying to solve due to numerous and necessary loopholes (indoor flight capable drones and COPPA).

Is this national aerial surveillance network the actual goal?

This is Orwell’s 1984 on steroids. This is the story the media needs to grab on to in regards to this FAA NPRM and future automated drone fleets. This is the story Congress needs to hear about.

The purpose of this FAA NPRM is the establishment of automated drone delivery AND nationwide aerial surveillance. The rest of the goals and claims seem like just noise.

Update: Imagine Remote ID USS collecting close in high resolution of your kids in your yard, or walking to school. All of this is violating COPPA and it will be very hard for parents to identify the offending drone operator, and then obtain the Remote ID USS, and then figure out how to contact them to remove those images from their database.

FAA NPRM: FAA denies request from AMA and EAA to extend the comment period

The FAA rejected separate requests from the AMA and the EAA to lengthen the comment period by a bit. The EAA was surprised at the stern language used by the FAA in their rejection:

“We are taken aback by the strident tone of the FAA’s letter,” said Sean Elliott, EAA vice-president of advocacy and safety. “If the agency does not act carefully and deliberately on this NPRM, it could forever jeopardize the freedoms enjoyed by countless modelers, who represent a significant pathway into manned aviation.”

My interpretation of the FAA wording, unfortunately, is that the FAA may be intending to ignore the public’s input and intends to ram this NPRM through regardless of legal (like violating Federal law) and technical issues, let alone practical and very costly impacts on the recreational community.

I found the wording very disturbing, particularly after my courteous exchange with the Office of Rulemaking two weeks ago. I now fear that if the FAA considers any public comments, they will, like the FCC did with net neutrality, only review comments from corporations, law firms and large, well known organizations – and ignore comments from individuals. If that. The FAA may, indeed, close the comments on March 2nd and issue the final rule on March 3rd after ignoring everyone.

I have 58 pages of written comments and notes (all single spaced). I have about 27 pages of that in near final form and was working to edit and reduce the remainder. However, after seeing this letter, I am now working to wrap up my comments and just summarize the remaining items as bullet points – because I fear all my hard work is for naught as the FAA appears to be signaling it will ignore public input.

This is disturbing as I am well qualified to make substantive and useful comments on this NPRM. In my comments, I have a brief biography statement:

I am a model aviation hobbyist, an FAA Private Pilot Certificate holder (currently inactive), member of the Experimental Aircraft Association, member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Field of Dreams RC Club.

I have a B.S. in computer science (senior thesis on the FAA and automation in air traffic control), a Masters in Software Engineering (thesis on Android smart phone power management) an M.B.A. degree and an Amateur Radio license. I hold two U.S. patents (one in wireless communications and one in aviation technology), have written about a dozen books on tech subjects, and have had a career in the computer and tech industry working in both software and wireless technology areas.

Separately, an FAA insider who is an R/C modeler told an acquaintance that unfortunately, this rule making is likely to shut down traditional R/C model aviation in the United States.

UPDATED: Yesterday I wrote this hypothesis:

The FAA is not being straight with the public and appears to be acting on secret information. We do not know if this is being driven by secret requests from Homeland Security, or if this is driven by the not so secret lobbying of AmazonGoogleUPS who have expressed a desire to privatize the low altitude air over our heads for their business uses. What ever it is, the FAA is not being transparent with the public and I have lost all confidence and trust in the FAA. The FAA is acting as a renegade agency at this point – and looks to be working under contract to industry, to largely eliminate recreational use of the airspace for model aircraft.

UPDATE: Today, I think I figured this out. The goal is to establish a national, aerial surveillance system, collecting detailed marketing data for businesses and detailed data for law enforcement.

The FAA and the operators of Remote ID USS databases envision using your drone to collect aerial images and possibly much additional data – such as WiFi networks, Bluetooth devices sensed, and so on, and selling this data for marketing purposes, for city government code enforcement, and for low enforcement.

This is a very big deal. This is one of the two main drivers behind the push to enact this rule as fast as possible. The other, of course, is automated drone fleets – which will themselves be collecting aerial surveillance data, spying on our homes and backyards.

FAA NPRM: Effect of remote ID USS on Smart phone Batteries

Preliminary results: Battery drain impact of a Remote ID USS app on a smart phone

Summary: Adding a Remote ID USS data logging app to a smart phone being used to control a quadcopter is likely to increase the battery drain by 10 to 15 percentage points over 30 minutes of flying. The quadcopter control app itself may drain 30-40% of the battery over 30 minutes of flight; adding Remote ID USS mostly adds the power drain of additional GPS usage and cellular data transmissions.

The FAA envisions using a smart phone to relay data about a flight into an Internet-based Remote ID USS (logging database). This data includes information about the operator, including the operator’s location, and for Standard ID, the location of the small UAS. Remote ID only requires operator location and restricts the small UAS to flight within a 400’ radius of the operator.

I created a simple Android app to read the GPS location, once per second, and to transmit data over the cellular connection, once per second (data and destination simulated and not representative of an actual Remote ID USS). This simulates using a control app on the phone to both find the location and relay the data.

This app was run on a Google Pixel 2 phone, outdoors, for ten minutes, and connected to the Internet using T-Mobile service, which in my backyard, is a “2-bar” signal.

In ten minutes, this resulted in 13% of the battery’s capacity drained. A 30-minute logging sequence would presumably represent a 39% battery consumption.

In a second test, I used a Yuneec Breeze, which uses an app as the control interface for the quadcopter. Running this app for ten minutes drained about 10% of the battery, or an estimated 30% in 30 minutes.

Continue reading FAA NPRM: Effect of remote ID USS on Smart phone Batteries

Hysteria: The Colorado Mystery Drones Weren’t Real

The mysterious drone sightings that captured national attention were a classic case of mass hysteria.

Source: The Colorado Mystery Drones Weren’t Real – VICE

Most of the widely publicized “drone sightings” and even “drone collisions” turned out not to be real. But these fake news reports served two purposes:

  1. They created mass hysteria that resulted in more people reporting seeing “drones”. Years ago, we had “UFO sightings”. Today, every light in the night sky is a “drone” and every plastic bag blowing in the wind is a “drone”.
  2. These false reports, hyped to an extreme, result in calls for more regulation.

Read on to learn about how the FAA may have helped generate hysteria in order to get Congressional permission to over regulate, and potentially shut down R/C model aviation in the United States.

This week,  the FCC apparently rejected the AMA’s request for an extended comment filing period, and in their rejection letter hint they want to roll out this rule making as fast as possible, potentially intending to ignore public input. 

Continue reading Hysteria: The Colorado Mystery Drones Weren’t Real

FAA NPRM: 36% of all filed comments are the AMA’s form letter

I previously explained why filing form letters with the FAA NPRM on Remote ID is a waste of time.

On January 7th, the AMA sent out an email blast asking members to urgently file comments and conveniently provided a link to a form letter.

As of today, 36% of all filed comments in the NPRM are the AMA’s poorly executed form letter. Ryan, posting on a FB FPV group page found that 2,506 comments of 7,020 filed so far are copied from the AMA’s form letter.

Some allege that the AMA’s poor performance on this existential issue is that their main focus is on being the affiliated CBO whose membership is required for FRIA certified air fields. In other words, its a cash cow.

#FAA NPRM: Read this assessment by an aviation/UAS lawyer #RemoteID #NPRM #UAS #UAV

See  RID – Somebody’s Watching Me?

By Dawn M. K. Zoldi, (Colonel, USAF, Retired), attorney and expert on UAS law.

She identifies many of the issues I previously described including the failure of the FAA to meet the requirements of the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act – and proposes a solution with some similarities to my proposal.

She discusses data retention issues (a topic I have in my notes but have not had time to write about on this blog), and privacy issues including the 4th amendment.

EAA says “Proposed Remote ID Rule Contains Concerning Requirements” regarding #FAA #NPRM

The EAA is the Experimental Aircraft Association, a global organization of aircraft builders, innovators, hobbyists and aviation enthusiasts:

EAA is very concerned that the FAA’s proposed rule on remote identification of unmanned aircraft systems could have a severe detrimental impact on traditional model aviation, and is preparing a full package of comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Source: Proposed Remote ID Rule Contains Concerning Requirements

Read the entire linked post from the Experimental Aircraft Association, a leading aviation group concerned with all aspects of aviation including home building aircraft, education, flight and much more. They call out problem areas in the FAA’s NPRM on Remote ID, including the indoor flight restriction problem that I first identified on this blog.

Note their ending comments:

EAA will provide guidance to members who wish to comment in the coming weeks. When you do comment, please be respectful and use rational, fact-driven arguments in your own words. Form letters and emotional comments have much less impact on the regulatory process. More updates will be provided as they become available.

By comparison, the R/C modeling association, the AMA, urged members two weeks ago to quickly file comments and offered a form letter to send or use as a template. Which was absolutely the wrong approach, as I have described in posts on this blog (see here and here).

Keep an eye out for the EAA’s guidance and  check out the guidance from others such as Drone U. (Downloadable information is located here).

I am proud to be a member of the EAA; I have stopped following the AMA on this critical issue (I am also a member of the AMA).

(I am in the midst of a two week period where I have almost no time to spend on the NPRM – I do have notes on more NPRM issues but will not have time until the middle of next week to resume research on these items.

For example, what is the real world impact on smart phone battery life of a once-per-second real time tracking system?

Smart phones extend their battery life by keeping electronics switched off as much as possible. This NPRM would require that the GPS be active continuously, the cellular transmitter be fired up every second, and the display and CPU/GPU likely in use simultaneously for running the R/C model control software. The display, the cellular transmitter and the GPS receiver are among the greatest power drawing components on the smart phone. This real time reporting requires the phone be operated in a maximum high power state continuously for the duration of flight. It is possible, especially in marginal cellular coverage areas, that the FAA’s Internet-based real time tracking system could use 30-50% of the phone’s battery in 20 to 30 minutes of flight. You’d have to recharge your phone’s battery before a 2nd or 3rd flight later in the day, creating yet another obstacle to flight. If I have time, I would like to test this and measure the impact on batteries.

I wrote my 2012 Masters thesis in Software Engineering on power management issues in Android phones.)

More: Why submitting a form letter comment to the #FAA #RemoteID #NPRM is a Waste of Time #UAS #UAV #Drones

In response to the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding Remote ID of small UAS, at least one national organization urged members to urgently file comments and helpfully provided a form letter – which as I showed previously – were submitted by many people. Submitting form letters is a waste of your time, as I explained then.

Here is what happened when another agency with another NPRM was overwhelmed with form letter responses from the public – they ended up ignoring most public input!

In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) solicited public comments on proposed rules regarding Internet “net neutrality”.

The FCC received about 23 million public comments.

Subsequent analysis of those comments revealed that millions of comments were form letters or slightly re-written template letters or written by computer software “bots”.

“For example,  Ars Technica reported in May 2017  that 128,000 identical comments were submitted through the portal for receiving public comments on this particular matter.”

Source: https://techraptor.net/technology/news/985-of-non-form-letter-fcc-comments-support-net-neutrality

In many cases, “bots” had harvested actual comments by actual people, and then generated dozens more comments using the same names and addresses of real people, creating false public comments.


“According to  Pew Research, only 6 percent of the roughly 23 million comments submitted to the FCC were actually unique. The rest were a combination of form letters and bots. The most popular form, submitted 2.8 million times, was a pro-net neutrality comment drafted by the advocacy group Battle for the Net.”

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/bots-form-letters-humans-fcc-net-neutrality-comments/

The FCC was so overwhelmed with these garbage comments that, according to Wired magazine,

“As a workaround, the FCC has decided to ignore the majority of comments submitted by the public in favor of lengthy legal arguments submitted by interest groups and corporations.”

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/bots-form-letters-humans-fcc-net-neutrality-comments/

The above is what happens when the public overwhelms the agency with form and template letters. It happened to the FCC. It could happen to the FAA as some groups have published form letters with instructions to “urgently” comment on the FAA NPRM.

How Should You Write a Comment to the FAA’s Remote ID NPRM?

Continue reading More: Why submitting a form letter comment to the #FAA #RemoteID #NPRM is a Waste of Time #UAS #UAV #Drones

Feeback sought: Draft of a concept to resolve FAA Remote ID conflicts with COPPA Law

Please also read the updated (January 12th and 14th) post about how the NPRM de facto eliminates most indoor flight of small UAS as Remote ID prevents flying if there is no GPS signal and the FAA asserts in the NPRM that only Remote ID compliant UAS may be sold.

Short Summary

  • Where Internet access is available, most flights of small UAS must be recorded, in real time, in an Internet database called a REMOTE ID USS.
  • Separately, there is a Federal law named Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that restricts the collection of data on children under age 13 (there is a bill in in Congress to raise that to under 16). This bill specifically includes geolocation data, and data collected from “toys and Internet of Things” devices as protected information on youth.
  • These restrictions apply to businesses, government and government contractors. There is no exemption for the FAA.
  • Even if they do not know they are collecting data on children, if a parent or guardian finds out after a flight that data has been collected, the parent has a legal right to request to review the data, request to delete the data and request to suspend further collection of the data. The FAA has no choice. Age restrictions on flight do not solve the problem as kids will still fly anyway and once notified, the REMOTE ID USS has to comply with COPPA.
  • We end up with, then, the FAA mandating collection of geolocation data on children while simultaneously another law, COPPA, says they cannot do that. Both cannot be true simultaneously.
  • This is a serious problem for the FAA’s NPRM and there are no obvious solutions within their current proposal. I propose a novel solution to eliminate most of the problems with Remote ID logging and COPPA and simplify the ease of compliance and costs for recreational flyers.

Background on COPPA

The FAA’s NPRM for remote ID of all small UAS includes a provision that where Internet access is available, all craft (except those < 0.55 pounds) must subscribe to and log their flight in real time, once per second, into an Internet database called a REMOTE ID USS.

I was tipped off by someone  in the legal field who says the mandatory collection of real time flight data – including of flights conducted by children – appears to conflict with a Federal law known as the Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act which restricts the collection of data on children under age 13. This law applies  to businesses, the Federal government and any contractors they use – there is no exemption for the government to collect data on children. It specifically restricts the collection of geolocation data and data provided by “toys and Internet of Things” connected devices.  Yet the FAA plans for an Internet-connected database tracking all flights, including by children, in an Internet database known as a REMOTE ID USS.

(My background is engineering, not law. However, when designing products or services, if I see possible legal issues, I document them and ask for legal assistance. This post is seeking feedback on these issues and my proposed technical solution .)

If a parent or guardian becomes aware that information has been collected about their child, including geolocation data, the parent or guardian is legally entitled to let the service know  – in this case, the REMOTE ID USS. Once notified, the parent is legally entitled to request to review the data, to request suspension of data collection and to request deletion of all collected data. (In effect, essentially anyone could spoof these requests and ask for deletion of data.)

The FAA could, say, ban flights by kids under 13 (Congress is considering raise the age to under 16) but that does not solve this problem. A child could take Mom’s quadcopter out to  the backyard and fly it. Once Mom discovers this, COPPA protections kick in – and she can request review, suspension or deletion of the data afterwards.

The FAA knew this in 2015 when they issued  a report on  registering all pilots of remote UAS. In that report, they stated they would not allow anyone under age 13 to register as they would then have to deal with COPPA, but they noted that children under 13 could still fly under the supervision of an adult who has registered.

What has changed is that under the Remote ID NPRM, the FAA would now be logging all flights by children, which runs into difficulties with COPPA requirements.

(I have pages of supporting quotes from the Federal Trade Commission that describe COPPA in details, and extensive notes on how this relates to the NPRM. The above is only a brief summary of the COPPA issues. This is a real problem for the NPRM.)

I could not identify a workable solution to the “COPPA dilemma” of the FAA logging a child’s geolocation data in real time without coming up with an alternative way of tracking aircraft.

This is the proposed concept I came up with to solve this problem and I am seeking feedback on this idea.

Proposed Technical Solution to the COPPA Restrictions on Data Collection

Continue reading Feeback sought: Draft of a concept to resolve FAA Remote ID conflicts with COPPA Law

#FAA confirms that #RemoteID #NPRM Eliminates Most Indoor Flight #UAS #UAV #modelaircraft #Quadcopters

(Posted originally mid day on January 10th. Received feedback on social media and made several important edits late on the 10th. Then, made additional minor edits  January 12th to clarify some items, based on additional feedback. Notably have changed “ban”/”banned” to “eliminates” as a more accurate description of what happens to indoor flight when no commercially made, non-complaint aircraft are available. IF you read this before January 12th, there are important changes and clarifications.

As of January 14th, an FAA official acknowledges the FAA cannot regulate indoor airspace – but has not provided a specific solution to the restrictions imposed by only permitting the sale of compliant  aircraft that require GPS to fly.)

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning standards for use of Remote Identification on small unmanned aircraft has the side effect of eliminating [4]  nearly all indoor flight of compliant, commercially made and sold model aircraft (greater than 0.55 pounds).

This is because compliant aircraft cannot fly unless they have a GPS signal and most indoor locations will lack a GPS signal.

In an email to me on January 9th, the FAA’s Office of Rulemaking confirmed this is the case. On the 14th, an FAA official acknowledges they cannot regulate indoor airspace but has not offered a solution to the “can’t fly if no GPS signal” issue for all commercially built and sold small UAS.

How this occurs

  • The NPRM requires only certified remote ID capable craft are sold in the U.S. 2 years after the rule takes effect[1]. All new small UAS must have Remote ID.
  • Remote ID requires periodic transmission of the craft and/or operator’s latitude and longitude.
  • The latitude and longitude are obtained from GPS signals.
  • If no GPS signal is presence,  the Remote ID system automatically prevents the small UAS from taking flight.
  • Since GPS is not available in most indoor areas, this eliminates the operation of commercially made small model aircraft inside most buildings. This includes private homes, garages, shops, businesses,  warehouses, manufacturing plants, convention centers, exhibit halls, mines and caves and other interior locations.
  • The FAA intends to restrict the manufacturing and sale of small UAS to certified, compliant aircraft only, meaning Remote ID and GPS functional.  On page 16 of the NPRM, the FAA writes: “The FAA envisions that upon full implementation of this rule, no unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds will be commercially available that is not either a standard remote identification UAS or a limited remote identification UAS.” [2]
  • Only compliant aircraft could be sold as new, 2 years after the rule takes effect.
  • The FAA is indirectly regulating the use of indoor airspace by prohibiting the sale of non-compliant aircraft that could function indoors[3].The FAA has no legal jurisdiction to regulate indoor airspace and they have acknowledged this.
  • (January 14th update) On page 8 of the NPRM, the FAA writes“All UAS produced for operation in the airspace of the United States would have to comply with the design and production requirements established in this proposal with exceptions for amateur-built UAS, UAS of the United States government, and unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 0.55 pounds.”The bold face text implies the FAA will permit the sale of small UAS that have a label on the side saying “For indoor flight only”. And this will prevent their outdoor use, how?Essentially, we are back to a conventional regulatory system that is based on trust and enforcement, rather than software mandated control.

A method to obtain reliable, tamper proof latitude and longitude without  GPS and inside buildings has not been identified, and if such technology exists, could it work on small UAS?

Problem Summary

  • The FAA intends that only certified, compliant commercially built may be sold in the US.
  • Compliant UAS require functioning GPS to fly; if no GPS,  they cannot fly, which means any commercially sold small UAS will not fly in most indoor locations.
  • The FAA acknowledges it cannot regulate indoor airspace but has not resolved the conflict between the rules that prohibit sale of non-compliant small UAS and the lack of GPS signal indoors which de facto regulates access to indoor airspace.
  • The note on page 8 implies someone may sell a craft with a “For indoor use only” sticker on the side, which largely defeats the purpose of most of the NPRM requiring remote ID on all outdoor flights. Surely, no one will ever fly a drone with a “For indoor use only” sticker outside?

Please read the email from the FAA Office of Rulemaking below. If you read this before January 12th, or the 14th, and are revisiting, please see footnotes [1] through [5] to understand what changed since this was originally posted. Continue reading #FAA confirms that #RemoteID #NPRM Eliminates Most Indoor Flight #UAS #UAV #modelaircraft #Quadcopters