Protecting our privacy as the drone market prepares for take-off
Updated: Feb 27, 2019
This year’s new privacy law has shaken up companies up and down the country, but how does the GDPR relate to the use (or misuse) of emerging technology such as drones?
It seems everyone is at it these days, and with reports suggesting that UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), or drones, will contribute £42bn to the UK economy by 2030, the number of commercial and amateur flyers is only set to soar. On the one hand, drones can be seen as a new recreational activity, providing fresh, never-before-seen footage. On the other, it will be hard to shake fears over noise, and above all, privacy.
Drones can come in all shapes and sizes, and are used for a range of different activities: Racing; Commercial; Recreational; and Toys. While toy drones have short flight times and limited imaging capabilities, at the other end of the scale, commercial drones are generally much larger, with a greater payload, longer flight times and far more sophisticated camera technology.
They can be used across a range of industries, from producing TV and film content, to analysing crop yields, locating missing persons or criminals, or even as heat cameras to help combat forest fires. So while drones provide both commercial and recreational opportunities, how does their use impact on our current privacy laws?
Although the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) is responsible for non-military UK airspace, its remit is limited to safety and does not cover privacy or broadcast rights. Instead, these fall under the jurisdiction of the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office).
The concern for many is that drone users do not need to obtain permission from landowners while flying over a particular piece of land – they only need permission for take-off and landing. However, any material photographed or filmed is protected by our privacy laws, in the same way as snapping a picture or taking a video on our smartphones in a public place.
The general rule of thumb is that unless you have explicit permission from the CAA, you should not fly a camera-equipped drone within 150m of a ‘congested area’, such as a town, city or public event. And even with permission, your UAV should remain at least 50m away from people, vehicles and structures that are not ‘under the control’ of the pilot.
If you’re an amateur pilot, the ICO's drone page explains how to fly without infringing privacy regulations. In summary, as a 'data controller', you should:
Let individuals in the vicinity know before recording content
Remain visible, and make sure your drone is visible, during a flight
Familiarise yourself with your imaging equipment so you are confident of its capabilities (e.g. how powerful the zoom function is)
Plan flights in advance and according to expected battery life, so that drones are not launching from inappropriate locations or flying unnecessarily close to individuals or private property
Consider how, why and what you are sharing; for example, if you post footage on social media, make sure you are not exposing any third-party data without permission
Store all recorded images and videos safety after the flight and delete any unnecessary/unwanted content straight away
If you’re flying a drone inside, you don’t need to worry about CAA regulations. But you will still need to consider the privacy element if you’re in a public place.
If you have any questions about aerial photography, or are considering using a professional drone service, then it's worth speaking to a local expert such as www.lancefrench.com/air.
Although still in its infancy, the acceleration of the drone market shows no signs of slowing, with experts predicting the implementation of a drone-only flight level across our skies – as well as mass drone delivery services – in the not-too-distant future. So watch out next time your Amazon package arrives (although how they would ring your doorbell, I don’t know).
So as privacy laws and drone technologies continue to reach new heights, it’s natural to be concerned about how the two will go hand in hand. But as long as pilots are mindful of the environment in which they fly, there is no reason drones can’t become a part of our community without us continually worrying about them being spies in the skies.