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Game of drones Charles Mabbett
21 January 2015

drone edit

Given the recent media interest in dash cams, the timing couldn’t be better to raise a related topic that has also excited journalists - drones. Technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones are becoming more and more common. They have even been described as the tractors of the future.

Their rapidly growing availability and use by agencies and hobbyists has triggered fears about their impact on privacy and aviation safety - so much so that our office has received 10 media enquiries in recent months from reporters wanting to know the privacy rules that apply to drones. They also want to know if we have received any complaints. The answer, until fairly recently, was none. But there has since been one, and we’re working through it.

As we discussed in our post about dash cams, the Privacy Act is a technology neutral piece of legislation which gives the basic principles by which we can make an assessment on the privacy implications of an emerging technology.

While drones are a new and emerging technology, the threat they pose to privacy is consistent with the use of any camera, including mobile phones or automated CCTV systems. Our CCTV guidelines apply to how someone might use drones fitted with cameras and comply with the Privacy Act.

The main points for any camera operator to observe are:

  • being clear about why you are collecting the information
  • making sure people know you are collecting the information
  • how you intend to use the information
  • keeping the information safe and making sure only authorised people can see it
  • disposing of the information after it has served its purpose
  • right of access to the information by the individual or individuals concerned.

The Privacy Act applies to information gathered by an agency about an identifiable individual, and it concerns how that information is collected, handled and disclosed. For a definition of an agency, go to our website here.

There are also other laws in New Zealand that are relevant to using drones to film or record. For example, it is against the law to make covert intimate recordings of people without their consent or knowledge, and to publish them.

For example, if you are sunbathing semi-naked in your own back yard surrounded on all sides by a three metre high fence, you would have an expectation that you won’t be spied on. See section 216G to 216J of Crimes Act 1961. There’s also the possibility the homeowner might want to take their own court action against the camera operator for invasion of privacy.

It is also against the law to peer into people’s homes and record any activity within. See section 30 of the Summary Offences Act 1981.

While it is understandable there is a spike in media and public interest in a new and exciting technology, it is important to keep things in perspective. In this case, people using drones should have the same consideration for others as those who already use CCTV cameras on their properties or dash cams in their cars.

That’s because the laws that protect people’s privacy are already in place and have been for some time now. While the technology of visual recording keeps changing, the laws and principles around the collecting and disclosing of information remain as relevant as ever.

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  • On the question of privacy in your own back yard, our neighbor has mounted not 1 but 4 security cameras along one side of her house under the eves, all pointing towards our yard. I have asked politely in writing if she would reposition them but she refuses to do so, stating she "can't see anything". The end camera can be seen from well inside my garage and my son's bedroom. My family and the family living in front dof us are very concerned. The front family, who have 3 very young girls are very concerned but don't know what to do. The front family are considering selling their home and moving. Can the police do anything about our situation?

    Posted by Wayne Pruden, 26/01/2015 7:37am (3 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Hi Wayne,

    We can give you advice on the situation you have described. Please call our enquiries line on 0800 803 909.

    You might also want to read our post on a recent Human Rights Review Tribunal decision on the subject of CCTV cameras: https://privacy.org.nz/blog/cctv-tribunal/

    Charles

    Posted by OPC, 26/01/2015 9:39am (3 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • The threat to privacy is greater than (not consistent with) that posed by cellphones or CCTV systems. Cellphones and dashboard cams are mobile but not operated remotely. CCTV is operated remotely but not mobile. Drones are both.

    Posted by Pam, 26/01/2015 4:38pm (3 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Last Sunday afternoon while in my back garden, I noticed a small drone hovering overhead.
    It stayed there for nearly a minute, presumably viewing my property. There is no way of knowing who was controlling the drone, or from where it came.
    The local Council has no guidelines for drones. It pointed me to the CAA website, which has info for OPERATORS of drones. The operator seems to have breached a few rules but obviously had not read 'em!
    (a) I'm concerned about possible privacy/security issues, but it seems I don't have a leg to stand on...unless I can identify the operator. Is this correct?
    (b) Do I have the right to somehow 'down' the drone to protect my privacy?

    Posted by Annoyed, Kaiapoi, 18/06/2015 12:12pm (2 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • You are correct in identifying one of the significant problems in dealing with drones. For any action to be taken, the operator of the drone needs to be identified. And by way of action, we would need a complaint to be made to us for us to investigate. However, most of these small drones do not have much of a range and it was likely the operator was close by.

    In answer to your second question, we do not recommend that people take the law into their own hands and bring down a drone (although it is understandable to want to react in this way).

    The CAA is introducing new rules for drone operators that will take effect in August. The one rule that has positive implications for privacy is that drone operators will need to get the permission of property owners if they want to fly their vehicles overhead. While this may be difficult to enforce, it is part of a process of getting drone operators to understand their responsibilities and obligations. We're certainly keen to see how this rule change beds in and the effect it will have.

    Here's a recent news story about the change:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11445081

    Posted by Charles, 18/06/2015 2:21pm (2 years ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • I.ve had a drone flying over me house looking in my yard and windows for the last five days, even after 8pm. If I use my .177 to bring it down what trouble can I get into? Keep in mind I've asked these neighbors to stop it on 3 occasions and I'm in a rural area. The drone comes from 800m away (the nearest house).

    Posted by Josh, 29/12/2015 9:07pm (24 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Hi Josh

    As Charles said above, we don't recommend taking the law into your own hands.

    The CAA added new regulations for drone August of last year. One of these regulations required drone operators to get permission from property owners/occupiers before flying a drone over their property. If you think someone is violating this rule, please contact the CAA by emailing info@caa.govt.nz.

    You can get more detail on the new regulations here: https://www.caa.govt.nz/rpas/index.html

    Posted by Sam Grover, 11/01/2016 12:00pm (23 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • My new neighbour has been flying drone over our sub division last couple of days. I am concerned about privacy and safety. After reading the advisory circulars from CAA on part 101 and 102. I understand they have the right to fly over their property. But I'm sure the cameras on them can see us. What should be my first step towards stopping this nuisance? Thanks, Mike

    Posted by Mike, 03/03/2016 9:03pm (22 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Our advice is to first talk to your neighbour and see if you can reach some kind of understanding. If that doesn’t work, you can make a complaint to the CAA: info@caa.govt.nz.

    The Privacy Act generally applies to agencies rather than individuals: government organisations, companies, clubs, societies, schools, hospitals and so on. It can apply to individuals when the subject matter is highly offensive, but this is a very high threshold that is reserved for the most egregious privacy breaches (such as “revenge porn”).

    If you think this situation reaches the ‘highly offensive’ threshold, you can ring our enquiries line (0800 803 909) and provide some more information. They should be able to give you more of a steer.

    Sam

    Posted by Sam Grover, 04/03/2016 11:55am (22 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • So if someone was on your property outside your window filming they would be called stalkers, peeping toms or perverts. What is the difference? There has been one hovering around my property the last few days. I am going to borrow an air gun and shoot it down next time it appears. Anyone with a drone in Welcome Bay, Tauranga - be warned if you come down to window level expect your drone to be downed!

    Posted by Linda , 05/05/2016 4:11pm (20 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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