Drone caught in the act of a privacy breach

June 26, 2014 |

CNN in high tech peeping drone terrifies woman has a report on a drone engaging in privacy invasive conduct.  In this case hovering near a window of a resident who was in a state of undress.  Such potential has long been acknowledged and the reality is here and reported upon from time to time.  This report highlights the actuality very starkly.

Protections in the US for an individual tend to be greater than Australia by a wide margin.  And understanding it would appear if the reports of the Queensland Privacy Commissioner in Drones ‘threaten safety before privacy’ are accurate.  The report provides:

FLYING drones with onboard cameras are more of a safety hazard than a privacy threat, Queensland’s acting privacy commissioner says.

Amateur enthusiasts are increasingly buying the remote-controlled aerial devices, which aviation officials say are hard to regulate.

Drones’ sharp rotor blades are emerging as a safety issue, with reports of injuries in Australia and the US as the number of operators multiplies.

Acting privacy commissioner Clare Smith says the short flying time of existing models means drones are yet to become a major privacy concern.

“It will be a safety issue before it becomes … a privacy issue,” she told a state parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

“At the moment, there’s 15 minute flying time.

“It’s emerging, and we’ll have to look at those privacy issues, but it’s still early days.”

Last year, Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) officials told a Senate hearing it was difficult to regulate drones, which often weigh less than seven kilograms.

CASA has issued numerous warnings to users for safety breaches, and is rolling out a public awareness campaign.

There have been instances in the US of drones’ propellers and rotor blades severing fingers, while in Western Australia an athlete on a fun run has been injured.

Clare Smith’s reported comments were silly then and, as the CNN report show, demonstrably wrong now (as if that was ever in doubt).  There is a real privacy intrusive reality in the misuse of drones and poor legal protections against such behaviour. It is not as early days as Ms Smith thinks.  Drones have been part of the landscape for at least 3-4 years now and while battery life is an issue that is both changing and dependant on the type of unit being used. Larger and more sophisticated drones have a considerably longer battery life than 15 minutes.  They can be used by commercial operators and hobbyists, with or (unfortunately too often) without CASA’s approval. The technology is moving along at an exponential rate and the takeup of the technology has been extraordinary.  The only thing that has not changed much is the law and, it would seem, the mindset of some regulators.

Ms Smith’s commentary was quite unsophisticated and not well thought out.   That is particularly the case from the head of, even in an acting capacity, a regulator with responsibility for privacy regulation.

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