Drone use is on the increase, but so too are the legal requirements

26 Aug 2022

Image: © Kadmy/Stock.adobe.com

ZenaDrone’s Simon Henry outlines the legal and ethical issues concerning drones and their use, both commercially and recreationally.

Drone use has increased significantly in recent years, especially in defence and policing organisations as well as within commercial industries.

Despite their practical uses, no matter what the purpose, drones raise challenges in both the legal and ethical arenas.

Research published in Science and Engineering Ethics identified 11 key areas of concern associated with the use of humanitarian drones. These include minimising injury, respect for individuals and regulatory dysfunction, among many others.

Risks to the public

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have always been associated with apparent security risks to the public, and several legal cases in different jurisdictions have resulted in prosecutions of drone users for torts, unauthorised data collection, and trespassing on private property. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that you must operate within legal boundaries when deploying drones.

One obvious legal challenge is the risk to property or personal damages from malfunctioning or falling drones. These accidents expose drone operators to torts, civil damages, and liabilities.

Another security risk, according to published research, is the drone’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, which could be used as a vector for malicious users promoting a new asymmetric kind of warfare. Because UAVs operate at different frequencies of wireless communication, cybercriminals can turn their attention to drones to perform, compromise, or exploit drone functionalities capable of antagonistic activities.

Drone innovation has also seen them equipped with high-definition cameras, sensors, and terrain-mapping capabilities. Therefore, drone use also carries a high risk in terms of breach of privacy. Drones have the ability to collect a huge amount of unauthorised data, even if they are not used to spy.

The Constitution secures citizens the right to privacy, including data privacy. Therefore, drone users must adhere to privacy laws and be cautious in the use of any data collected. For example, they cannot mine or sell any data collected, due to the privacy rights inherent to people and organisations.

Laws and regulations

Various government agencies regulate the use of drones, with standard UAV regulations specifying height boundaries, prescribed geographical area, data collection and usage. Additionally, permits and licensing can differ from country to country, and indeed state to state.

Several international governments, including EU member states, require drone owners to acquire official UAV licenses before they can operate their drones. Moreover, photography and cinematic drones are primarily restricted from flying over private territories, military centres, and sensitive locations without a permit.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) regulates, enforces and provides guidance for flying and operating drones to ensure public safety. The regulations allow authorised owners and pilots to hover their drones across the EU, while drone owners must register as a drone operator if the UAV consists of a camera and sensor, or if it weighs more than 250g.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, unauthorised drones flying over army bases or headquarters are brought down immediately, and their owners legally prosecuted. This is due to the security risks the drones can bring to the official institutions, public safety and the general security of the bases.

Rules for drone use in Ireland

Flying a drone is legal in Ireland, according to the IAA, but drone operators must comply with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency guidelines. As well, Ireland has its own country-specific regulations.

Within the European Union’s standard rules for drone use, there are three categories based on drone weight and intended operational functions.

Irish drone operators must register their drone with the IAA, whether commercial or recreational, if they plan to fly it above 15 meters or if the drone weighs more than 1kg.

Even registered drones are restricted from flying over 120 meters and they should not weigh more than 25kg.

Drone operators must maintain a direct line of sight and may not fly a drone within 5km of an airport or within 30 meters of buildings, structures, national monuments, event gatherings, vehicles or traffic.

Owners are not legally required to insure their drones, but the IAA recommends it.

Continuing innovation

Drone utilisation has drastically improved military, policing, agriculture and commercial industries, as well as increased drone hobbyists’ interests.

With continuing innovation, drone applications stand to benefit ordinary people. But it is important to remember that drone regulations have precise obligations regarding data collection and usage.

Unauthorised aerial data capture exposes the public to various security risks and governments all across the world are continuously updating laws and regulations to protect and uphold both the public and private interests of their citizens.

By Simon Henry

Simon Henry is the business development manager for ZenaDrone, which provides drone technology for agribusiness, using high-definition cameras and sensors to monitor and treat crops across large areas.

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