Australian private drone operators are immune to current privacy laws

Photo: Getty Images

Australia’s Privacy Commissioner Timothy Piglrim says the Privacy Act in its current form “does not cover” the actions of individuals using drones.

The increasing popularity of drones with private users in Australia has led to growing concerns around the regulation and enforcement of privacy.

Manufacturers in the United States recently established an initiative, NoFlyZone, which allows the public to set up and register restricted airspace above their homes.

In Australia, there is no such program in place and the laws surrounding drone operations in Australia only cover private sector organisations and government agencies.

Here’s what Pilgrim says:

While drone technology can have a number of clear benefits for the community, such technology also presents a number of risks through its potential to be privacy invasive. Drones are increasingly being used in the commercial context and by individuals operating them in their private capacity as a leisure activity.

Where a private sector organisation or an Australian Government agency covered by the Privacy Act 1988 intends to use drone technology to collect personal information, it must do so in accordance with the Privacy Act. This would include giving notice to affected individuals about the collection of their personal information, only using and disclosing the personal information as permitted by the Privacy Act, and keeping it secure.

The Privacy Act does not cover the actions of individuals in their private capacity, including any use of drones by individuals. I have expressed my concern about whether current laws, both State and Federal, provide sufficient regulatory protection, including appropriate restrictions on unreasonable uses.

Despite a stern warning from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) last month, amateur drone operators are neglecting to follow rules and the number of drone “incidents” are increasing.

“The problem is people don’t understand the rules or they’re choosing to ignore them,” a CASA spokesperson said.

Here are the rules, according to CASA, for civil/hobby drone use:

  • Stay at least 30 metres away from people with your drone.
  • Keep your drone under 400 feet (121.92m).
  • You may not operate your drone above a large gathering of people (i.e.: at sporting events, over crowds at the beach or groups of protestors)
  • You must keep your drone within sight while you’re operating it.
  • You may not operate your drone within 5km of an airport and a place where planes take off or land from.

If you violate these rules, CASA can impose infringement notices of up to $8,500 per offence. More serious offences are dealt with on a case by case basis.

Photo: Getty Images

In November, News Corp reported a tourist had filmed his drone flight in the Gold Coast, reaching heights of more than 1000ft. He then flew over the beach, while people sunbathed below.

In July last year, a Sydney woman phoned the police after she caught a real estate agent’s drone hovering outside her kitchen window.

A police spokesperson said “nothing illegal was taking place” and the real estate agent flying the drone had the appropriate papers to do so.

In June 2014, a woman in the US told CNN she saw a drone hovering outside her window while she was changing.

And in Los Angeles last month, hockey fans cheered as they took down a police drone which they say was watching their celebrations after the LA Kings won the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

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