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Eyes in the sky: ​Parliament committee warns about drone privacy

A federal parliamentary committee has warned that Australians are not protected by privacy law when it comes to drone use.


The increasing use of drones in Australian airspace has come under scrutiny from a federal parliamentary committee which warns that Australian privacy law does not protect Australians' privacy from drones.

The House Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs has issued a new report, "Eyes in the sky: Inquiry into drones and the regulation of air safety and privacy", which says the Australian government needs to update privacy law to keep in step with the proliferation of drone devices.

According to the committee's chair, MP George Christensen, "drones are coming" and questions are starting to open up about how they are regulated.

"The technology is here and it is only a matter of time before they become widespread," said Christensen.

"Drones will revolutionise some industries, with a wide range of beneficial uses. All the same, we must set out clear rules that govern how the police, governments, businesses and members of the public use drones."

The Committee report outlines the social and economic potential of drones -- or Remotely Piloted Aircraft as they are also known -- but also focuses on "the air safety and privacy implications" of the technology.

"As RPAs become more popular, they are increasingly being used in unsafe ways," the report read. "In addition, the increasing sensitivity of the cameras and instruments they can carry has raised concerns about privacy intrusions."

In addition to these privacy concerns, the committee cited safety concerns "with numerous injuries and near-misses reported across Australia" resulting from drone use. Drawing on information from industry, privacy experts and government agencies, the committee made six recommendations for the federal parliament.

These include a review of laws regulating use of surveillance devices (including drones), and a review of laws that regulate police use of surveillance drones, with a focus on modernising legislation and making it nationally uniform.

The Committee also supported calls from the Australian Law Reform Commission, which recently issued a discussion paper on serious invasions of privacy, saying they should be covered by their own Commonwealth Act outside of the existing Privacy Act 1988.

Furthermore, the Committee recommends that the law continue to be reviewed in order to reflect changes in technology into the future.