Australia should introduce drone privacy laws by 2015: committee

Drones raise “serious privacy issues” for Australians, says Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs

The Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has recommended that the Australian government introduce privacy legislation by 2015 to cover the use of drones, according to a report tabled in Parliament today.

The report Eyes in the Sky, included five recommendations to improve privacy laws around drones or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAs). The Committee refers to drones as RPAs throughout the report.

“The Committee recommends that the Australian government consider introducing legislation by July 2015 which provides protection against privacy-invasive technologies including remotely piloted aircraft, with particular emphasis on protecting against intrusions on a person’s seclusion or private affairs,” said the report.

In addition, the Committee said the government should “consider giving effect” to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) proposal for the creation of a tort of serious invasions of privacy to cover invasive technologies including drones.

The Committee also urged the Australian government to simplify Australia’s privacy regime by introducing Australian wide surveillance laws that cover the use of listening devices, optical surveillance devices, data surveillance devices and tracking devices.

“The unified regime should contain technology neutral definitions of the kinds of surveillance devices, and should not provide fewer protections in any state or territory than presently exist,” read the report.

The Committee also recommended that the government consider the measures operating to regulate the use or potential use of RPAs by Commonwealth law enforcement agencies for surveillance purposes in circumstances where use may lead to privacy issues.

“This consideration should involve both assessment of relevant Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, as well as the adequacy of relevant provision of the <i>Surveillance Devices Act 2004</i> which relate to warrants.”

The Committee went on to say that RPAs have introduced “privacy and safety issues” that were not conceived of 10 years ago. According to the Committee, drone technology 10 years from now may exceed what “we can currently imagine".

“Given the seriousness of both privacy and air safety, the Committee considers it imperative that a forward plan is in place to monitor RPA use and regulation,” read the report.

The Committee also said that the Australian government should include information on Australia’s privacy laws with the safety pamphlet the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) distributes to drone vendors.

“The pamphlet should highlight remotely piloted aircraft users’ responsibility not to monitor, record or disclose individuals’ private activities without their consent and provide links to further information on Australia’s privacy laws,” said the report.

“While it is difficult to prevent the misuse of new technologies, it may be possible to give people who have been the victims of that misuse easier access to justice. The current complexity of Australian privacy law is a burden to these individuals that should be addressed.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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