Publish date: 20151218
Author: John Goglia
The FAA finally confirmed this afternoon that model aircraft registrants’ names and home addresses will be public. In an email message, the FAA stated: “Until the drone registry system is modified, the FAA will not release names and address. When the drone registry system is modified to permit public searches of registration numbers, names and addresses will be revealed through those searches.”
I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of whether names and home addresses of model aircraft or hobby drone owners – including children as young as 13 – will be made available by the FAA to the public once the FAA’s new unmanned aircraft registry goes live on Monday. It seems a simple enough question. But it took a while to get a straight answer.
My confusion arose because of an apparent contradiction that a colleague pointed out to me between what the FAA stated in its FAQs on the new registration rule and what the Department of Transportation stated in a legal filing made at the same time as the FAA’s new rule was published. The FAA’s FAQs made it appear that only the FAA, its contractor and law enforcement agencies would have access to the data. Here is the FAA’s FAQ:
1.) Who can see the data that I can enter?
A. The FAA will be able to see the data that you enter. The FAA is using a contractor to maintain the website and database, and that contractor also will be able to see the data that you enter. Like the FAA, the contractor is required to comply with strict legal requirements to protect the confidentiality of the personal data you provide. Under certain circumstances, law enforcement officers might also be able to see the data.
This led me – and many others I’ve spoken with – to believe that only these three entities would have access to registrants’ personal information. But my colleague pointed out that the DOT’s filing contained the following statement, “all records maintained by the FAA in connection with aircraft registered are included in the Aircraft Registry and made available to the public, except email address and credit card information submitted under part 48 [the new model aircraft registry].” In addition, the DOT statement says the name and address of model aircraft owners will be searchable by registration number.
So, I emailed DOT’s public affairs office to ask if they could clarify what information from the newly announced UAS registry will be made publicly available. Specifically I asked: “Will a hobby registrant’s name and home address be publicly releasable? Will the public be able to search the hobby registry for owner names and addresses by registration number?” I thought these were easy questions requiring simple yes or no answers. But apparently they weren’t that simple so my questions were referred to the FAA. An FAA spokesman wrote back: “Initially the Registration system will not have a public search function. The FAA plans to incorporate a search by registration number in the future. Names and addresses are protected by the Privacy Act. The FAA will handle disclosure of such information in accordance with the December 15, 2015 Federal Register notice.”
Not considering this a clear answer, I replied, “my reading of the DOT policy is that if someone requests the name and address of a drone registrant the information will be released by the FAA. I don’t want to misstate what the FAA would do so I would appreciate your confirmation.”
The FAA responded that it would have the Chief Counsel’s Office again review my request. It seems the third time was a charm and I got an answer that may not make many hobbyists very happy.
Fortunately for hobby flyers, the Academy of Model Aeronautics announced to its members yesterday that it’s exploring all legal and political means to stop the registry. In the meanwhile, it’s asking its members to hold off registering. If you’re concerned about what data will be made publicly available, you might consider holding off registering to give the AMA a chance.