EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee: Divided Appeals Court Endorses Secrecy of Key Working Groups

April 30, 2021

A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit, ruling today in EPIC's case against the FAA Drone Advisory Committee, held that the committee can keep the records of its controversial working groups secret. EPIC filed suit in 2018 against the industry-dominated body, which ignored the privacy risks posed by the deployment of drones even after identifying privacy as a top public concern. As a result of EPIC's lawsuit, the committee was forced to disclose hundreds of pages of records under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. But a lower court ruled in 2019 that the records from the committee's working groups could be withheld from the public—a decision that the D.C. Circuit affirmed today. Judge Robert L. Wilkins, writing in dissent, accused the majority of "doing violence to the text" of the FACA and argued that the decision "undermines FACA's purpose and greenlights an easily abusable system[.]" Noting the "obvious privacy concerns that drones present" and the fact that the DAC was "stacked with industry representatives," Wilkins warned that "[w]e should look with suspicion upon agency efforts to circumvent FACA by using subgroups." The case is EPIC v. Drone Advisory Committee, No. 19-5238 (D.C. Cir.).

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