Discussion Post: DRONES

I was reviewing some articles from the CBA and thought it would be interesting to share the following information since people are starting to stay home a little more and drones might be a way of getting out and about!

The first thing to highlight is that as drones become more popular and more capable, they are increasingly flying into sensitive airspace where they may cause some sort of harm. This includes airports, forest fires, large crowded events (though not lately), and different types of secured buildings and private property. Given the ability for drones to expand further into the commercial realm, we should definitely have growing concerns around these flying tools.

The basis of the article revolves on the data collection capabilities of drones, which are at an all-time high. The proper drone can capture and transmit massive amounts of data, including high-resolution images and video that can be used for a wide variety of uses. Some possible concerns focus on the abilities of some drones to be customized in order to identify and track people or vehicles as well as include radiocommunication payloads that can allow for the interception of communications and even collect data from access points. Without a nation-wide detection system for these devices, drones have another ability to raise difficult questions around privacy.

How do we identify when information captured by drones constitutes “personal information”? Is it possible to gain meaningful consent from data subjects? How and when do we inform individuals about the collection, use, and disclosure of possible personal information? How do we limit collection and reduce the potential for indiscriminate over-collection? And, finally, how can we ensure that drone operators remain accountable for their practices?

These are very difficult questions to try and answer right now, even if we CAN answer for some of these questions. The Federal “Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act” (“PIPEDA”) and corresponding provincial legislation will be the tools to analyze rules around “personal information”, but it might be difficult to highlight when this becomes an issue. This issue is compounded when a number of pieces of data collection may not constitute personal information on their own, but enough pieces of data, put together, become personal information through the capability of that compounded information to identify specific individuals.

So exactly how can we deal with some of these issues? We have statutory and common law torts for breaches of privacy by individuals and organizations so individuals can launch actions for civil remedy and damages. However, this puts the onus on the individual being harmed and, according to the article, there are no reported court cases in Canada alleging a drone operator had committed privacy torts. Because of this, the article highlights “steps to avoid privacy breaches” for drone operators, but the question remains: how do we hold drone operators accountable?

I think that until we have a few court cases dealing with this, we might not see any current or upcoming changes around answering questions around colloquial “drone law”. Further, we have no definitive method on tracking all the personal or commercial drones that can be flying around out here. Once we require drones to implement something like a remote ID system, similar to plane tracking, we can still have rogue drones, quite literally, flying under the radar.

I think right now, until we start installing drone detection systems everywhere, the best methods in dealing with drones might be limited to counter-drone technologies such as jamming devices (illegal), software exploitation devices to take control the drone (illegal), and Physical Disruption (not expressly prohibited…). But that raises a completely different concern: will we legally allow property owners and individuals to “fight” trespassing drones?


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