8/07/14 9:53 AMThe Australian Privacy Foundation
Page 1 of 3http://www.privacy.org.au/Papers/PS-Drones.html
The association that campaigns for
Resources | What Can I
APF | Media Campaigns
in Date Order
by Topic | Join APF | Search
Click here for Advanced Search
APF Policy Statement on Drones
Version of 31 March 2014
Drones are aircraft that have no human pilot on board. They are usually controlled by a remote human pilot, although
most are at least capable of partly autonomous operation, and fully autonomous drones are emerging. The industry
uses a wide variety of terms for such aircraft, including remotely-piloted aircraft and systems (RPA/RPAS) and
unmanned aerial vehicles and systems (UAV/UAS).
Drones come in varying sizes. Some are large (similar to conventional aircraft, down to 150kg), while smaller drones
are usefully categorised as mini- (150kg down to c. 5kg), micro- (5kg down to c. 100g), or nano-drones. Their
capabilities vary depending on their size, but drones of all sizes have the capacity for negative impacts on privacy.
Drones' payloads and controllability have greatly increased, and their costs have dropped sharply, particularly since the
turn of the century. This has resulted in many applications becoming economically feasible, and in the emergence of a
range of new opportunities.
Currently, some drones are being used for load-carrying, and a few as targets, while many of the smaller categories
are used in similar ways to model aircraft, for self-entertainment. The vast majority of licences, however, and a great
deal of the hobbyist usage, involve aircraft carrying cameras. While some are fixed-wing aircraft, many are rotorcraft
which have the additional ability to hover in place.
Aviation safety regulations have placed some constraints on the deployment of drones, although less so in Australia
than in some other countries, particularly the USA. The Australian aviation safety regulator, CASA, has been
conducting consultations with industry - but apparently not with civil society - with a view to removing many of those
constraints. It is not doing this on safety grounds, but essentially because it considers the existing rules impractical to
enforce. In the meantime, many hobbyist users are flouting the rules, without any meaningful action being taken to
The near-future prospects are of both very substantial increases in drone usage and an absence of any meaningful
Drones and Privacy
There will be many applications of drones that will be economically, socially and even culturally beneficial.
There will also be many uses of drones that have privacy implications.
This Policy Statement addresses uses of drones within Australia, but does not consider their use elsewhere. It is
divided into two sections. The first addresses impacts on behavioural and data privacy. The second is concerned with
8/07/14 9:53 AMThe Australian Privacy Foundation
Page 2 of 3http://www.privacy.org.au/Papers/PS-Drones.html
privacy of the physical person.
Privacy of Personal Behaviour, and of Personal Data
Drones are very likely to result in the proliferation of surveillance capabilities. Most commonly, these will involve
visual surveillance, with a great many models of mini- and micro-drones designed to carry a remotely-controlled
camera. The scope exists for other surveillance capabilities, including in the infra-red range, and across the rest of the
The use of drones for surveillance can be reasonably expected to have a number of serious negative implications for
behavioural privacy. In particular:
the perspective of the observation is from above, which enables obstructions to view to be much more readily
the manoeuvrability of the aircraft means that the point-of-view can be moved, and moved quickly
in some circumstances, the craft's manoeuvrability, speed and endurance are sufficient that pursuit of a
surveillance target becomes feasible
many more organisations and many more individuals will find it economic to conduct surveillance
a much greater degree of automated monitoring is feasible
multiple sources and live feeds can be used at the same time
because the economic constraints are much lower, it is feasible to conduct more intensive surveillance of
individuals and locations (i.e. more of the time), and more extensive surveillance (i.e. in more places)
as battery technology improves, long-term surveillance becomes a more realistic possibility
the enforcement of laws that constrain surveillance will become more difficult, because of the number of
organisations and individuals breaching them
Some observation is ephemeral. Increasingly, however, image and video are transmitted and recorded, which means
that there can be impacts on data privacy as well. How serious these impacts are depends on the extent to which
individuals are identifiable, whether from the recording alone, or when the recording is used in conjunction with other
sources of information.
It is important to enable the many beneficial and appropriate uses of drone surveillance, particularly by law
enforcement and emergency services agencies and the media, but also in such areas as mining, agriculture,
infrastructure maintenance and tourism.
It is vital, however, that unjustified and inappropriate aspects of drone surveillance, by all organisations and all
individuals, be subjected to effective controls.
The emergence of drones throws into stark relief just how inadequate existing laws are in relation to surveillance
The APF calls for all of the following:
1. Comprehensive laws regulating surveillance activities, by all organisations and individuals
For further details, see APF's Meta-Principles, APF's Policy on PIAs and APF's Policy on Privacy and the Media
2. Provisions that relate to private places, but also provisions that relate to private space in public places
3. Provisions relating specifically to visual surveillance
For further details, see APF's Policy on Visual Surveillance and APF's Policy on ANPR
4. Provisions relating to aerial surveillance, reflecting the additional vulnerabilities that arise from it
5. To the extent necessary, provisions relating to surveillance by means of drones