Drones and Privacy: What Are My Rights?

Drones and Privacy: What Are My Rights?

In 2015, Amazon successfully delivered its first products by drone delivery. This means that soon a drone may be a household device as common as the TV and the smartphone.

You have probably already heard the whining noise of a drone in your neighbourhood. It might have been in your street or at a nearby park. Seeing it zip past overhead might be a bit of a novelty but what happens if a drone buzzes around your house for hours while you are trying to sleep?

Almost all drone models come fitted with cameras, enabling you to see where the drone is flying. Higher priced models even come with video and audio recorders. What are your options if one records you sunbathing in your backyard?

Like most technology, the law has not quite caught up with drones yet:

In 2012, Australia’s privacy watchdog (the Privacy Commissioner) admitted that drones operated by individuals do not have to obey privacy laws;

In 2014, a Federal Parliamentary review called Eyes in the Sky reported on the impact of drones on air safety and privacy; and

In 2016, the Federal Government’s air safety regulator (the Civil Aviation Safety Authority or CASA) changed the rules so that you do not need a licence to fly a drone under two kilograms.

All this means is that personal rights and drones continue to be a complex legal area.

Drones and privacy in general

The first thing to understand is that the Privacy Act 1988 does not apply to individuals that operate drones because they are not a government agency. The Privacy Act 1988 also does not apply to people or organisations unless they earn more than $3 million per year.

This means that the usual legal protections of your privacy do not apply to small businesses, media or private individuals.

The second thing is that although they might be a regulator, CASA do not regulate drones that invade privacy. CASA enforces safety rules. They might take action if a drone is piloted in any of the following ways:

It is flown between sunset and sunrise (i.e. at night);

The drone exceeds 120 metres above ground level;

You fly the drone closer than 30 metres to a person;

The drone is flown over populated areas, such as a place that if the drone crashed, a person might be injured; and

You fly the device over a prohibited or restricted area (like an airport) or over “emergency areas” (like bushfires or car accidents).

But what are your options if you feel that your privacy has been breached by a drone? There are other ways the law can provide protection.