Drones working for vigilantes and… of course the privacy implications

March 31, 2016 |

The BBC reports in Sex worker caught by ‘drone vigilante’ pleads guilty  that in Oklahoma a citizen used his drone to film an act of prostitution, in a parked vehicle, which resulted in the successful prosecution of hte prostitute.  Given the development of the technology it is hardly surprising that it could be put to this use.  The privacy issues are clear and the fact that the filming took place in a public area does not mean the privayc implications are non existent.  The article provides:

A woman in Oklahoma has pleaded guilty to a lewdness charge after being caught on camera by a local “drone vigilante”.

Brian Bates used a drone to film Amanda Zolicoffer during a liaison with a man last August.

Mr Bates says this was the only occasion on which he has used a drone to film such an encounter.

A civil liberties campaigner pointed out that filming with drones could raise privacy concerns.

According to court documents seen by the BBC, Zolicoffer was sentenced to a year in state prison for the misdemeanour.

The case against her alleged client, who was released following arrest in December, is still pending.

Footage of an encounter between two individuals in a parked vehicle was given to Oklahoma City police by Mr Bates.

Video vigilante

“I’m sort of known in the Oklahoma City area,” Mr Bates told the BBC.

“For the last 20 years I’ve used a video camera to document street-level and forced prostitution, and human trafficking.”

Mr Bates added that on this occasion he felt safer filming the incident via drone and said that it was able to get “very good footage”.

Mr Bates runs a website where he publishes videos of alleged sex workers and their clients.

“I am openly referred to as a video vigilante, I don’t really shy away from that,” he said.

However, Mr Bates also said that he was reluctant to use his drone in many cases because of safety concerns.

In this instance, said Mr Bates, the two individuals were inside a vehicle and the incident occurred away from other members of the public.

“I’d certainly caution other people who may be tempted to use drones to maybe fight drug activity or prostitution or gangs in their neighbourhood,” he said.

“If one thing goes wrong, you will probably be the person facing criminal charges or civil liability.”

Expectations of privacy

“People operating drones have to think about whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are filming,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

“Filming in public spaces [for example] is very different from filming someone’s private property.”

Mr Killock pointed out some general issues facing drone owners with regards to filming and said there was little difference between this and traditional photography.

“The technologies may be different but the ethics are fundamentally the same.”

Meanwhile in Australia the CASA director of aviation safety, Mark Skidmore, is reported in Changes to Australian drone regulations due this year  to have given an end of year date for new regulations relating to the use of drones.   It would appear that a less restrictive approach to approvals.  The delays in instituting new regulations have been significant.

The article provides:

CASA after a more nuanced approach.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) expects to have new rules governing commercial drone use in place by the end of this year, giving businesses the opportunity to incorporate unmanned aircraft into their operations without an arduous approvals process.

The aviation regulator last year flagged proposed changes that would see commercial operators exempted from having to apply for CASA approval to fly drones weighing less than 2kg.

Currently all commercial operators have to apply for a licence, a process that costs roughly $2000 with a wait time of up to six months.

However, CASA’s director of aviation safety, Mark Skidmore, told delegates at the Informa Police Technology Forum last week the changes 34re likely to be broader than just the sub-2 kg exemption.

He said the authority wanted to move towards “a more operationally-based risk approach rather than a prescriptive one based on weight alone – which in any case is a minor factor when it comes to risk to operations”.

He said the more nuanced rules CASA was considering would classify weight across a range of different groupings, as well as taking into account the speed and relative complexity of commercial operations.

At the moment, Skidmore said, small unmanned aircraft were essentially identical in risk to model planes. but attract completely different operational rules.

“We need to fix this anomaly,” he said.

Technological advances have produced lightweight yet high performance drones that could potentially fly as far as New Zealand, Skidmore pointed out.

“Thus in the interests of safety it is crucial that this operator be licenced, have a full risk assessment, and be treated more like a conventional pilot,” he said.

His team is resssessing how CASA rules define a ‘populous area’ where drone flights are prohibited without authorisation, in order to “inject a little bit more flexibility into the system” especially in the sub-2kg range.

The regulatory amendments have been given the ministerial green light and are expected to be formally signed off by the government some time this year.

Skidmore also flagged the possibility of introducing fast-tracked drone operator certificates for emergency services “particularly when life or limb is at risk”.

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