Do people have concerns about the privacy of drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles threaten the airspace - and privacy too ?!

Starting position

The use of drones has increased steadily in recent years and there is no end in sight to this development - on the contrary, the technology is becoming more and more sophisticated. The EU even expects drones to account for ten percent of the aviation market in the next ten years (more details here).

The fact that the increasing number of aircraft are not without problems is shown not least by the fact that more and more incidents are becoming known that lead to a massive threat to air traffic from drones. It happened, for example, that a commercial aircraft almost collided with a drone on its approach, that drones hindered fire-fighting helicopters in such a way that their use had to be interrupted or that a rescue helicopter had to avoid a drone on the way to a clinic at 450m height to avoid a collision to prevent.

Due to their small size, drones are barely visible and with their electric motors they are almost noiseless. As a result, you hardly notice them when they are in the air. Due to advances in technology, drones can be equipped with cameras and sound recording devices and thus provide insights that would not be possible without these technical aids. Since drones can easily overcome obstacles and visual barriers, they can collect data on the flight object even without the direct line of sight of the “pilot”. Buildings, gardens and terraces that are not visible are suddenly no longer protected - as originally intended. This endangers the privacy of those affected in a particularly serious way.

However, the actual purpose of the drones is not to inspect other people's properties and to observe selected people. Rather, they are used to record landscape panoramas, to check road and railway bridges for damage, for observation purposes in the event of disasters, for measurements, transports or scientific investigations.

Legal classification

The Aviation Ordinance (LuftVO) differentiates between model aircraft and so-called unmanned aviation systems. Which of the two terms drones actually fall under is determined by their intended use. While model aircraft are used exclusively for recreational purposes or for sport, unmanned aviation systems are used for other (especially commercial) purposes, which, according to the law, have highly developed electronics on board and can carry out independent flight maneuvers. The use of model aircraft for leisure and private use requires a permit according to § 16 Paragraph 1 Item 1 lit. a LuftVO only from a weight of 5 kg, while unmanned flight systems according to § 16 Paragraph 1 Item 7 LuftVO for their Ascent always require a permit.

Article 29 Working Party Opinion

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party issued an opinion on the risks to privacy and data protection on June 16, 2015, based on the use of drones. She expressed her greatest concerns regarding the collection and processing of image and sound recordings as well as location data if certain or identifiable persons can be identified on them. The problem is complex and ranges from the ignorance of the surveillance as a whole to the ignorance of the technical equipment of the drones to the ignorance of the purpose and owner of the data collection.

The data protection group is in favor of developing an innovation-friendly regulatory framework to protect against misuse, without restricting the advantages of using drones. To this end, she calls for the creation of a legal framework for the use of drones at both European and national level, particularly with regard to the protection of privacy. The recommendations also provide that the legal provisions for video surveillance in publicly accessible rooms should apply analogously to video recordings with drones.

Since the operators of the drones are very difficult to identify, electronic license plates or a public website listing the drone operators are considered useful. In addition, at major public events in which drones are used, the use should be indicated in advance as well as during the event itself.

Sequel follows…

Due to the dangers and risks that drones can pose, the regulations in force in Germany were tightened in June. In a comparative article between German and Swiss law, we will briefly explain which regulations actually apply.

Katrin Gisler || Supervisory authorities, videos | Drones, air traffic regulations, privacy, unmanned aerial vehicles, video surveillance