The rush to start flying drones through the skies of San Francisco has thus far consumed for-profit companies like Amazon, Google and Chipotle, all of which seek to to eventually test-fly various drone delivery models. But the city of San Francisco appears to be on the verge of allowing various city departments to start flying drones for their own non-commercial purposes.
The Chronicle reports that the San Francisco Committee on Information Technology is poised to approve a plan to give permission to five city agencies to begin flying their own drones, though each agency would then have to develop its own specific drone request-and-approval process.
The proposal has been two years in the making, and was spurred by the 2015 discovery that SF Rec and Parks had been using drones for monitoring purposes. That revelation came only after one of the drones was stolen, prompting privacy advocates and neighbors living adjacent to parks to wonder why the heck Rec and Parks was flying drones and what was being done with the pictures and video the drones took.
The proposal would not give every single city department permission to fly drones. Drone-flying privileges would only be granted to the fire department, the Port of San Francisco, the Recreation and Parks Department, the Public Utilities Commission. and the Office of the Controller. Quite notably, the San Francisco Police Department is not on this list, though any department is currently allowed to use drones in the event of a disaster or emergency.
“Departments must have an authorized purpose to collect information using a drone, or use drone-collected information,” according to a draft of the policy obtained by the Chronicle. The policy also states that any personally identifiable private information collected by the drone must be deleted.
But those safeguards may not be enough for the comfort level of privacy advocates, and the drone policy is still not fully approved. The Committee on Information Technology will debate — and is expected to approve — the proposal at a 10 a.m. meeting Friday morning at Room 305 at City Hall.