Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner issues guidance on use of drones

April 21, 2015 |

The Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner  replaced its guidance on the use of CCTV surveillance with a guide relating to both CCTV and drones.  It issued Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones on 31 March 2015.  It is found here.

The announcement relevantly provides:

This Guidance replaces the Guidance on CCTV Surveillance Practices as it introduces amendments to take account of the new provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) (Amendment) Ordinance 2012. More significantly, it incorporates new guidance for the responsible use of drones.

Drones (or unmanned aircraft systems) are either controlled autonomously by computers or by remote pilots.

Drones can be used in many ways that bring about great social and economic benefits, such as land surveying, predicting weather patterns, fighting fires as well as search and rescue operations. With reduced costs and increased capabilities, they are increasingly used in commercial operations (such as shooting advertisement; TV and movie production); and for hobby or recreational purposes.

The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Mr Allan Chiang said, “While the privacy implications of surveillance tools such as CCTV are fairly well understood, drones when fitted with cameras could add a new dimension to these privacy concerns by virtue of their unique attributes. These include their mobility as well as ability to stay in the air for a considerable period of time, gather information from vantage points and over a broad territory. They have been aptly referred to as ‘unblinking eyes in the sky’.”

“To eliminate or reduce the privacy intrusiveness of the use of drones as a persistent, surreptitious, agile and efficient surveillance tool, users of drones should be particularly mindful of the need to respect people’s privacy. Public perception and the reasonable privacy expectations of affected individuals should be ascertained. The alternative use of less privacy intrusive means of collection and use of personal data should be seriously considered. The intrusion on privacy can only be justified if it is proportional to the benefit to be derived,” Mr Chiang stressed.

The privacy guidelines for the use of CCTV apply equally to the use of drones. However, to address the drones’ special attributes such as mobility, small size and difficulty to identify the operator, innovative measure to safeguard privacy are called for. Specific illustrations of this approach are provided in the Guidance.

 The suggestions on the responsible use of drones provides:

Flight path
– Flight paths should be carefully planned so as to avoid flying close to other people or their properties. For example, drones should be launched from a location as close aspossible to the area they need to cover
Recording and retention
– If recording is intended, the recording criteria (what, where and when to record) should be pre-defined to avoid over-collection of information, some of which may be related to individuals. Drones may go off course by accident and record scenes unintentionally. A policy to erase irrelevant recording and a data retention policy should be developed.
Security
– If images are transmitted through wireless means, encryption should be considered to avoid the adverse consequences of interception by unrelated parties. If the drone has a recording function, access control should be considered to prevent the recording from falling into the wrong hands in the event the drones are accidentally lost.
Notice
– Being transparent about the operation of the drone is important to building trust with those affected by its operations. Informing them clearly of your purposes and operation details is the best first step to assure them that you have nothing to hide and are not covertly monitoring anyone. However, this often poses the greatest challenge and innovative approaches may be called for, such as:-
? flashing lights may be used to indicatethat recording is taking;
? pre-announcing drone operations in the affected area by social media;
? putting corporate logo and contact details on drones;
?having crew members wear clothes with the same corporate identities; and
? putting up big banners with privacy notices and contact details at “launch sites”

The Australian has taken an interest in drone technology.  In that vein there is review of a new model of the Parrot drone, in Bebop better than AR Drone, but battery life limited.  As names go it is better for a song or dance style than a flying vehicle.  The review is interesting in both showing the huge advances in drone techonlogy from year to year.  Now drones have strong and dependable wi fi, live streaming of data (video in this case), controlling camera angle and the ability to shoot stills, built in GPS and control by first person view glasses and an ability to pre program. This is a long way from the now primative octocopter sometimes mounting a fixed video camera.  Along with the increased flexibility and potential for commercial use there is an exponential increased risk of privacy intrusive behaviour.  All the while the law lags.

The continuing bane of drone technology is the limited battery life of commercial and hobbyist drones.  The Bebop has a battery life of 10 minutes.  Once a practical solution for limited battery life is found the, yes, sky is the limit.

The article provides:

Paris-based tech firm Parrot set the world ablaze when it released its camera-equipped AR. Drone in 2010. It was the first time the general public could fly an affordable drone and shoot video to, say, locate the source of a clogged gutter on their roof or create blimp-like footage of their kids playing sport.

One memorial case was the AR. Drone filming around and inside the structurally weakened Christchurch Cathedral after the earthquake.

It offered a safe way of initially inspecting damage.

The AR. Drone was also revolutionary because you could control it with a smart device connected by WiFi.

Now Parrot has released a new model. Its new Bebop Drone retains the small, lightweight form of the original but offers much more. I’ve had several sessions flying it.

The original AR. Drone had drawbacks. Its range wasn’t so great due to what was sometimes a flaky WiFi connection.

If you lost control, it could on occasions keep flying and drop from the sky some distance away. Initially video resolution was relatively low, and onboard storage for it limited.

The Bebop addresses many of these issues. It comes with its own controller called a Sky Controller, with a powerful WiFi signal that Parrot says can communicate with the drone over 2km.

That’s impressive, but there’s no way you will legally fly that distance in Australia. The country’s air regulator, CASA, requires you fly by line-of-sight. And at about 600m the Bebop is reduced to a tiny spec in the sky.

I could barely see it and I had virtually no naked-eye perception of the direction of flight.

Worse, as happened to me when momentarily distracted, I took my eyes off the drone for an instant and when I looked back couldn’t see it.

The Bebop will live stream vision to you of its travels but you can’t rely on it to locate the drone. I found on occasions that the stream froze.

Fortunately the sky controller has a home button. Give it a press and the drone will find its way back to you like a boomerang. That’s if it has enough juice left. That rescued me in a situation where the drone had begun flying over a lake.

In my tests, the battery limits you to only 10 minutes flying time, so it’s a lottery if it will get back after travelling a significant ­distance.

The sky controller has a spot in the middle for mounting a tablet or smartphone that wirelessly connects to the controller and displays live vision from the Bebop. It has left and right joysticks for flying the drone.

Press the emergency stop button and the Bebop will drop from the sky like a stone.

There’s also a take off and land button, and a camera button for shooting stills and changing the camera angle. Unfortunately the stills I shot weren’t very good, with movement noticeable. But the video retrieved from the drone’s 8 Gigabytes of internal storage was excellent quality, thanks to its 14-megapixel fisheye camera.

The camera offers a 180 degree view. You can zero in on any side of the camera while flying. When you change its direction, you’re not moving the camera, but changing which bit of the image you see.

Unfortunately, Parrot has made no headway in improving battery life. The 10 minutes you have with each battery goes quickly and you’ll spend an hour recharging one. You do get two batteries in the kit, and a third with the Sky Controller.

The Bebop comes with in-built GPS and it can also be controlled by first-person-view glasses and, soon, using the upcoming Oculus Rift vital reality headset. You’ll be virtually inside the cockpit.

These days Parrot is up against stiffer completion in the form of Chinese drone maker DJI.

The DJIs are more expensive but they are easy to fly, and you can use a GoPro camera for shooting video, or DJI’s equivalent. The Bebop will set you back $700, or $1300 with a Sky ­Controller.

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