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Game of drones Charles Mabbett
21 January 2015

drone edit

Given the recent media interest in dash cams, the timing couldn’t be better to raise a related topic that has also excited journalists - drones. Technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones are becoming more and more common. They have even been described as the tractors of the future.

Their rapidly growing availability and use by agencies and hobbyists has triggered fears about their impact on privacy and aviation safety - so much so that our office has received 10 media enquiries in recent months from reporters wanting to know the privacy rules that apply to drones. They also want to know if we have received any complaints. The answer, until fairly recently, was none. But there has since been one, and we’re working through it.

As we discussed in our post about dash cams, the Privacy Act is a technology neutral piece of legislation which gives the basic principles by which we can make an assessment on the privacy implications of an emerging technology.

While drones are a new and emerging technology, the threat they pose to privacy is consistent with the use of any camera, including mobile phones or automated CCTV systems. Our CCTV guidelines apply to how someone might use drones fitted with cameras and comply with the Privacy Act.

The main points for any camera operator to observe are:

  • being clear about why you are collecting the information
  • making sure people know you are collecting the information
  • how you intend to use the information
  • keeping the information safe and making sure only authorised people can see it
  • disposing of the information after it has served its purpose
  • right of access to the information by the individual or individuals concerned.

The Privacy Act applies to information gathered by an agency about an identifiable individual, and it concerns how that information is collected, handled and disclosed. For a definition of an agency, go to our website here.

There are also other laws in New Zealand that are relevant to using drones to film or record. For example, it is against the law to make covert intimate recordings of people without their consent or knowledge, and to publish them.

For example, if you are sunbathing semi-naked in your own back yard surrounded on all sides by a three metre high fence, you would have an expectation that you won’t be spied on. See section 216G to 216J of Crimes Act 1961. There’s also the possibility the homeowner might want to take their own court action against the camera operator for invasion of privacy.

It is also against the law to peer into people’s homes and record any activity within. See section 30 of the Summary Offences Act 1981.

While it is understandable there is a spike in media and public interest in a new and exciting technology, it is important to keep things in perspective. In this case, people using drones should have the same consideration for others as those who already use CCTV cameras on their properties or dash cams in their cars.

That’s because the laws that protect people’s privacy are already in place and have been for some time now. While the technology of visual recording keeps changing, the laws and principles around the collecting and disclosing of information remain as relevant as ever.

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  • Agencies are beginning to make use of drone technologies. NZTA contracted an independent provider to carry out a drone survey of a property ajoining a busy road. Apart from safety issues and the fit for purpose question (the road has a 15 metre shelter belt) there are potential privacy issues with the capture of passing vehicle details, and the intrusion into vehicles/properties being overflown. I wonder if you would deal with the issue of ownership of the images captured during the survey process and the rights the vehicle/property owner has to the images so as to ensure nothing unacceptable was captured and that the process adhered to terms of the consent.

    Posted by Olivier, 12/12/2016 1:48pm (10 months ago)

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    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • Hi,
    So I live in a small cul de sac of 4 houses and my neighbour has been flying his drone on all of our property. Yesterday he flew his drone over my yard for a good 10 minutes and I know he was recording because he then referenced what he saw. As a young woman alone in my back yard where I expect privacy, I now feel uncomfortable going out there. What can I do to make him stop? My other neighbour has spoken to him about how we do not consent to him invading our space and he told her to F-off. He is very unreasonable and you cannot speak to him about what he doesn't want to hear. What is your advice about this? A letter telling him not to do this isn't going to stop him, are there fines for this sort of thing?

    Posted by Upset, 13/02/2017 3:08pm (8 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • While relaxing in my garden I dozed off awoken by a drone over head. This is not the first flown from a nearby look out point over my own and other private properties. I photographed another this afternoon. He claimed not to know there were any restrictions, he'd recently bought the drone from Harvey Norman and claimed that he had received no additional information. I have a photo of the car, license included, of a driver with a camera bag fitting that of a drone. He left after a neighbor threatened to shoot the drone down. What can we do?

    Posted by ang, 19/03/2017 2:34pm (7 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

  • I own a covenanted bush block in Northland for the purpose of looking after the forest, native birds e.g. tomtits and kūkūpa (pigeon) and other wildlife. I just found out that a local real estate is employing a photographer to routinely photograph properties for sale and that they have been photographing the adjoining small property which would be almost impossible to photograph without including or flying over my land. Apart from finding this invasive and unnecessary my main concern is for my birdlife. Are there rules about what height a drone can be operated at above a nature reserve? How do we know what the estate agents end up doing with the photographs or whether they have images outside of the piece of land they are selling? I know that they hadn't asked my neighbour that was selling the land. Maybe not entirely a privacy issue but maybe you can point me in the right direction.

    Posted by Jacqui Brooks, 19/04/2017 4:57pm (6 months ago)

    Post Reply

    The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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The aim of the Office of Privacy Commissioner’s blog is to provide a space for people to interact with the content posted. We reserve the right to moderate all comments. We will not publish any content that is abusive, defamatory or is obviously commercial. We ask for your email address so that we can contact you if necessary to clarify your comment. Please be respectful of authors and others leaving comments.

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