This was released by the Privacy Commissioner in January.

droneGiven 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. Seesection 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.