Let’s Talk About Drones

During the last week – and at other times during the lockdown – the topic of drones has come up on the village Facebook page. People have reacted with alarm to drones spotted over the village or near their homes and the resulting conversations 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.

Drone Safety

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.

The official Drone Code has a very useful explainer…

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.

People often conflate these safety rules with laws which are designed to protect our privacy. In fact they are two completely separate issues.

Drones and Privacy

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 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.

Finally

Not all drones are spying on us! We live in a very picturesque part of the country with the natural landscape extending all around us. We also have lots of local history – some of which can only be seen from the air. With a drone, some locations can now be observed from a unique perspective in a way that was never possible before. So, the next time you see a drone over Titchmarsh, just remember it might be someone doing something perfectly innocent.

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