Drone flying has become an increasingly popular pasttime. As the technology improves and the prices come down so more and more people seem to be using them. However not everyone is happy about this. Some people react with alarm when drones are spotted over the village. They are seen as an intrusion of privacy or generally up to no good. The resulting interactions between opperators and villagers can get quite fiery. To help avoid any conflicting messages this article outlines the current legislation in relation to responsible drone usage in and around our village.
Responsible Drone Use
The main cause of concern is when someone sees a drone flying directly over their house – especially when it appears to be too close for comfort. In such circumstances, people have a right to be concerned. Such actions are intrusive. Everyone is entitled to their privacy and responsible drone operators must respect that. However, it is also important to remember that we do not own the airspace over our homes. The airspace above Titchmarsh is controlled by the CAA – or Civil Aviation Authority. All aircraft are free to use this airspace so long as they do so safely and in accordance with the CAA’s Air Navigation Order (ANO). This applies to all piloted and non-piloted “flying machines” including jumbo jets, hot air balloons, microlights, helicopters and drones.
In the case of drones, Article 95 of the ANO states that a drone must not be flown within 50 meters of a structure which is not under the control of the operator*. That means if a drone is more than 50 meters above your property it is being flown in compliance with CAA regulations. This does not mean such activity is acceptable – it just means it isn’t illegal and it isn’t trespass.
There are other regulations, like keeping 150 meters away from built-up areas (which does not apply in Titchmarsh) or large crowds – or maintaing distance from individuals.
*Under a strict interpretation of the rules, you are not even allowed to launch a drone from your own garden if a neighbouring property is within 50 meters. In such circumstances, speak to your neighbour! Tell them what you want to do and seek their approval. If your neighbour is OK with your activity then you are free to proceed.
Drones and Privacy
People often conflate drone safety rules with laws which are designed to protect our privacy. In fact they are two completely separate issues.
If a drone has a camera, the data it records may be covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 and/or 2018 (DPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Drone operators recording or using personal data or identifying personal data must comply with their obligations under the DPA and GDPR. Compliance requires, among other things, that operators gather and use footage fairly and lawfully.
NB: It’s worth pointing out that footage captured by a drone is covered by exactly the same legislation which applies to CCTV.
Your privacy matters
If you believe someone has recorded, collected and held your personal data without your permission, the first step would be to contact the owner/operator in question. Individuals who believe they have been filmed have the right to access their data, receive a copy of their data and request to have their data removed (if it is being used online or some other purpose).
If you have told a drone operator to stop filming over your property, and they continue to do so repeatedly, it may amount to an offence of harassment.
Drones can be annoying! The perception that we are being spied upon by some remote operator is not nice. However, when used in accordance with the rules they are perfectly harmless. Only very expensive drones are equipped with cameras which can zoom in with any kind of clarity. The average drone can’t see details (faces) beyond 20 meters. They certainly can’t spy through windows!
We live in a very attractive part of the country with the natural landscape extending all around us. It’s nice to observe this from above. We also have lots of local history – some of which can only be seen from the air. Drones present us with a unique perspective in a way that was never possible before. So, the next time you see something buzzing over Titchmarsh, unless it’s flying really close, it’s probably just someone having a bit of fun.