Privacy Right – How to Regulate Civilian Use of UAVs?

By Uri Volovelsky,  lawyer and researcher on law and technology

The use of unmanned aircraft (UAVs) for civilian purposes has become part of reality during recent years. Private persons, commercial companies and state authorities (mainly law enforcement, led by the police) have already identified the almost indefinite potential of UAVs. The manufacturers of the UAVs and the on board equipment have also identified the huge economic potential of this market. However, there are fears that the increase in UAVs use will lead to an erosion of the right to privacy, with negative social consequences, such as the increase in voyeurism.

What should be the law in the case of images taken through a UAV by environment activists who wish to prove that a celebrity’s house had been built in infringement of building laws? Should law enforcement be permitted, and under which conditions, to operate UAVs equipped with cameras, bugging and face identification software – what is the limit of the right for privacy?

Is there any regulation that would be able to ensure that the advantages of UAVs be utilized and at the same time would prevent (or at least reduce) the negative social consequences of the use of the UAVs?

It is a complex issue. First, there is a difficulty to define privacy, as it is a vague and dynamic right. In addition, any arrangement that permits the use of UAVs must safeguard the balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to privacy, both are fundamental rights with a similar normative status.

Each of the UAV users groups (private persons, commercial firms and government authorities) has different interests, and rules must be suited to each of them.

Another difficulty relates to the fact that while UAVs are already in use in Israel, there are almost no public discussion on the subject and no legal regulation.

As UAVs are one of the most important challenges to the right to privacy, a fundamental change must be adopted. As result, a systemic approach must be adopted, which would include the legislative and judicial authorities, and that tackle the threats to privacy.

Several technological and other solutions that have been adopted in the US and Europe may be implemented also in Israel. For example, a model should be established, according to which all the users groups would voluntarily accept the UAV flight limitations, similarly to the users organizations in the US.

Laws of privacy, real-estate and other laws in Israel must be adjusted to a reality where the use of UAVs keeps growing. The real-estate law should acknowledge that the right to privacy would also refer to the elevation space up to 400 feet and to adjust the conditions of trespassing on the ground to those on the air.


Article courtesy : iHLSIsrael Homeland Security

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