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Droning on drones Sam Grover
6 July 2015

uav

The ongoing adoption of drone technology creates a number of new questions about privacy. To this end, we recently completed our first drone-related investigation. We’re confident it won’t be the last.

In this case, a man was in his apartment near a sports stadium. Sky TV was using a drone to film a game, and in doing so the drone came close to the man’s apartment. The man filed a complaint with us, saying that he had not consented to being filmed.

We contacted Sky TV, who clarified that their drones are not constantly recording. Rather, a producer contacts the drone operator when he or she wants to capture footage. The drone is lying in wait (or flying in wait, as it were) at all other times – including its flight past the complainant’s apartment.

Our opinion is that the man’s rights were not violated under the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act deals with the way agencies gather and handle information.  Since the drone wasn’t recording, it wasn’t gathering information.  A drone that is not recording is no more a violation of your rights under the Act than any other object, such as a lamppost, parking meter or sewer grate.

The case does raise some interesting questions for the future. For example:

  • What do you do when you don’t know who is responsible for a drone?
  • How do you indicate consent to record (or lack thereof) to a passing drone when personal information is being recorded?

These questions are just a starter. Help us out by adding any issues you can think of in the comments below.

Please bear in mind that the aviation rules for flying drones are about to change. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced that the new rules will take effect on 1 August 2015.

Among the proposed changes will be a prohibition about flying over parks or houses unless permission is obtained from all affected people. You can find out more about CAA’s changes here.

You can also read our earlier blog post about drones and cameras here.

(Image credit: Danny Piercy - Creative Commons)

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  • "We contacted Sky TV, who clarified that their drones are not constantly recording. Rather, a producer contacts the drone operator when he or she wants to capture footage. The drone is lying in wait (or flying in wait, as it were) at all other times – including its flight past the complainant’s apartment."

    I am wondering about the evidential burden when it is not a party taken as trusted for clarification like from Sky TV? Are we going to expect some sort of digital record, proof, forensic evidence from the drones? IMO this could get really difficult practically.

    Posted by Beau Murrah, 06/07/2015 11:26am (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.

  • Hi Beau,

    this is an interesting, hypothetical point. In this case, we took Sky TV's evidence at face value that the drone was not collecting information. Bear in mind, this is the first case of its type that we've investigated and we take each complaint on a case-by-case basis.

    Certainly, if an agency gives us an assurance it was not recording, and later discloses information it said it hadn't collected, a complainant would be able to use that to present a stronger case to us.

    Also, if unsatisfied with the respondent's response even if we closed the file, a complainant could take a complaint directly to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, where if the case were to proceed, evidence would be heard under oath and subject to cross-examination.

    All of this remains to be seen and we look forward to how future examples will test the law.

    Charles

    Posted by Charles, 06/07/2015 2:11pm (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.

  • When faced with a drone outside your window or over your garden, how exactly can you tell if it's recording or not? And there's no way of preventing a recording if you don't want to be recorded - all you can do is complain afterward, assuming you find out what, who, etc. Not really practical and any 'rights' we may have don't offer protection, which surely is their intended purpose?

    Posted by Tom, 15/07/2015 10:04am (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.

  • "Since the drone wasn’t recording, it wasn’t gathering information. A drone that is not recording is no more a violation of your rights under the Act than any other object, such as a lamppost, parking meter or sewer grate." I doubt that this is correct.

    As a practical matter, the producer could only tell the drone operator when to start recording if they knew what the drone was "looking at", i.e. the producer requires a live feed from the drone camera. (Trust me, I have clients with drones and this is exactly the way it works.) There would be no masking of the image as is supposed to occur with CCTV. The drone is definitely collecting information, it is just not holding the information if the imagery is not recorded.

    Posted by Andrew, 29/08/2015 2:49pm (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.

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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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