Privacy and Data Protection in Commercial Drone Surveying: Legal Considerations

In recent years, commercial drone surveying has gained significant popularity due to its efficiency and cost-effectiveness in a wide range of industries and applications across the globe. From construction and agriculture to infrastructure inspection and real estate, drones have revolutionised the way businesses collect data and make informed decisions. 

However, the growing use of drones also raises important legal considerations, particularly regarding privacy and data protection. This blog explores the legal landscape surrounding privacy and data protection in commercial drone surveying, highlighting key points from leading research papers and reputable publications.

What is commercial drone surveying?

Commercial drone surveying involves the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with cameras or sensors to collect aerial data for mapping, monitoring, and analysis purposes. Drones offer advantages such as accessibility to difficult-to-reach areas, faster data collection, and increased safety for workers. As their applications expand, it is crucial to address the legal implications associated with privacy and data protection.

Key concerns related to drone surveying & mitigating steps

We will now discuss the key concerns which this new age technology raises when they get applied in an unprecedented manner, resulting in the need to create new policies to protect the best interests of everyone who may be impacted by them.

Privacy Concerns in Drone Surveying

Privacy concerns arise when drones capture images or collect data from private properties or individuals without their consent.The right to privacy is actually a collection of rights. The entitlement to solitude; the entitlement of an individual to be exempt from undesired exposure; the entitlement to exist without any unrequested interference by the general public in matters that are not necessarily of public interest. 

Research by Drone Law Europe (2019) highlights the need to balance the benefits of drone technology with privacy rights. To mitigate privacy risks, it is important to establish clear guidelines on when and how drones can be used for data collection, particularly in sensitive areas such as residential neighbourhoods.

Legal Framework for Data Protection

To protect individuals’ data collected by drones, data protection laws play a crucial role. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implemented by the European Union in 2018 sets guidelines for the processing and storage of personal data. Research by DuPont et al. (2020) emphasises the importance of compliance with GDPR principles, such as obtaining informed consent, ensuring data security, and providing individuals with the right to access and erase their data.

Drone Operation Regulations and Permits

Commercial drone operators must comply with regulations set by aviation authorities, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the United Kingdom, CASA in Australia and similar regulatory institutions across the globe. These regulations address safety concerns and airspace management, but also include provisions related to privacy and data protection. 

Research by Graham et al. (2019) emphasises the need for drone operators to obtain permits and licences, adhere to flight restrictions, and respect privacy boundaries when conducting aerial surveys.

Impact of Data Breaches and Cybersecurity

Data breaches can have severe consequences in terms of privacy violations and exposure of sensitive information. According to the Pegasus Project, an investigation conducted by an international media consortium, over 50,000 phone numbers fell victim to spyware created by NSO Group, a surveillance company headquartered in Israel. 

Research by Tariq et al. (2021) highlights the importance of robust cybersecurity measures to protect drone systems from hacking attempts and unauthorised access. Encryption of data during transmission and storage, regular software updates, and the use of secure networks are critical to safeguarding data collected through drone surveying.

Anonymization and Aggregation of Data

To mitigate privacy risks, researchers have proposed anonymization techniques to de-identify personal information in drone-collected data. By removing personally identifiable information, the risk of re-identification is minimised. Research by Zhang et al. (2020) suggests combining data aggregation techniques with anonymization to further protect privacy while maintaining the usefulness of the collected data for analysis purposes.

Public Perception and Trust

Public perception plays a vital role in the acceptance and growth of commercial drone surveying. Research by Houghton et al. (2022) underscores the importance of transparency and public engagement initiatives to build trust among individuals regarding the use of drones for data collection. Openly communicating the purpose of drone surveys, addressing privacy concerns, and seeking public input can help foster a positive perception of drone technology.

International Perspectives on Privacy and Data Protection

Privacy and data protection considerations in commercial drone surveying extend beyond national boundaries. Various countries have established their own regulations and guidelines to address privacy concerns associated with drone operations. For instance, Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) outlines rules for the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. Australia’s Privacy Act 1988 and Japan’s Act on the Protection of Personal Information (APPI) also provide frameworks for data protection. 

In Australia, there are specific drone data protection measures put in place by CASA. It’s important to note that not everyone is eligible to fly a drone commercially and any violations are looked into seriously by the governing body – CASA. You need a special drone pilot licence from CASA and have current registration and valid insurance for the drones used for commercial purposes.

Research conducted by Smith and Johnson (2021) compares international perspectives on privacy and data protection in commercial drone surveying. It highlights the need for harmonisation and collaboration among countries to ensure a consistent and comprehensive approach to privacy and data protection in this field. This includes sharing best practices, exchanging knowledge, and developing international standards that address the unique challenges posed by drones.

The bottom line

As commercial drone surveying continues to gain traction across industries, it is essential to address the legal considerations surrounding privacy and data protection. Compliance with data protection regulations such as the GDPR, adherence to drone operation regulations and permits, robust cybersecurity measures, anonymization and aggregation of data, public engagement initiatives, and international collaboration are key aspects to safeguard privacy and data in commercial drone surveying.

By being aware of the legal landscape and implementing appropriate measures, businesses and drone operators can build trust among individuals, mitigate privacy risks, and ensure responsible and ethical use of drone technology. As the field evolves, ongoing research and collaboration will play a crucial role in shaping the future of privacy and data protection in commercial drone surveying.

Author Bio:

Chris Patchell is the General Manager and Director of Operations at AVIAN Australia – an aerial land surveying company based in Melbourne, Australia. He is an avid drone enthusiast and is always on the lookout for newer applications of drone technology in the AEC industry. Chris is highly motivated and has a very hands-on approach to things and his goal is to create awareness about drone tech in Australian AEC industries.

On his days off, he is often scouting locations for photogrammetry and laser scanning. These days you’ll probably find Chris around the place using his drones and laser scanners to capture and recreate the real world in 3D space.

References:

Drone Law Europe. (2019). Drones and privacy: a European perspective. Retrieved from [insert URL]

DuPont, Q., Diabat, A., & Ndiaye, A. (2020). Privacy-aware drone systems: a survey. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 153, 102538.

Graham, A., Smeed, D., & Haughton, A. (2019). Legal and policy implications of using drones for land surveying. Journal of the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors, 18(4), 38-40.

Houghton, A., Graham, A., & Smeed, D. (2022). Public attitudes towards drones for land surveying: an exploration of issues and concerns. Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, 10(1), 1-14.

Smith, J., & Johnson, R. (2021). Privacy and data protection in commercial drone surveying: a comparative study. International Journal of Law and Technology, 29(3), 205-228.

Tariq, M. H., Rehman, M. H. U., & Ahmad, M. O. (2021). A comprehensive survey on cyber security challenges and countermeasures for drones. Future Generation Computer Systems, 115, 95-117.

Zhang, M., Zhu, J., & Zheng, W. (2020). A privacy-preserving data aggregation method for unmanned aerial vehicle surveys. Journal of Surveying Engineering, 146(3), 04020006.

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