Thursday, December 06, 2012

Camera drone panic!

Watching BBC Breakfast this morning you'd think cameras were some new and scary bit of technology. They were talking about camera drones, essentially model helicopters slung with a still or video camera. Imagine these flitting about with someone hovering over your back-garden watching you the law has to be set to deal with this.

Um the law already deals with this via Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the UK's Human Rights Act there is a right to respect privacy. As I've said before, when dealing with taking photographs, is there an expectation of privacy? If so then you can't take images without explicit consent.

I have an expectation of privacy in my garden with its high hedges; hovering a camera drone over it invades my privacy.

Where there's a problem with such remote imagery is that it's not a criminal offence. I can't call the police about the camera drone, I have to sue the person operating it directly. Except how do I know who that is? If I 'shoot' it down then technically I'm causing criminal damage and the operator can call the police on me. Claiming trespass against it would be the equivalent of claiming trespass against a aircraft flying over your property so that's out too.

As it stands anyone can fit a camera to a flying device and take imagery wherever they choose blatently; it's only if the capturer is tracked down or they publish does the subject have the opportunity to sue.

Treating it simply by making it an offence to breach privacy seems the obvious cause; yet we already have examples of such lax laws within the communications act regarding offensive messages. Without a strong definition of privacy the risk is run of emulating the current definition of obscenity as being 'what people consider obscene' with 'when people consider something to be private'. It's flakey and as we've seen far too open to abuse.

As we already have a definition of public and private areas then in theory 'operating within a private area without consent' would seem to fit the bill. Except the camera isn't in a private area it's in a public area taking images of a private area. Okay 'taking images of a private area without consent'; now say goodbye to Google Street View as almost every image they've taken contains images of a private area. Say goodbye to tourist imagery of Buckingham or St James Palace - all private areas.

It's tricky and far too easy to go for a knee-jerk quick-fix. Perhaps a combination of the two - taking imagery of a private area where there is an expectation of privacy? Still has the wishy-washy expectation of privacy, but coupled with a private area clause means not stopping taking photos of buildings fronting public areas nor 'celebrities' out on the town. Might work.


Thomas said...

great read that, fantastic got me thinking. I think we could say goodbye to satellites too, and no windows on passenger planes.

FlipC said...

Thanks, it may well come to that depending on how the current laws are interpreted or how new ones are written.

Consider your example of satellites in conjunction with Google Maps. Using such you could see my large swimming pool in my garden (okay I don't have a swimming pool, but say I do) this is something that can't be seen from outside my property and I may not want anyone to know about my pool. Yet using satellite imagery anyone can see it. Is that an invasion of my privacy?

In theory I have the expectation of privacy so the answer is yes. I can now sue Google :-)

As I say it's not easy.

thomas said...

I obtained a picture of my friends sitting in his upstairs flat, watching the TV by his window, and it is from the Google earth van, he couldn't believe it, I've told him to take it to a solicitors but he won't, it's total invasion of privacy. Its all gone a little bit to far now, and its come to the point when you realise it can't be stopped. It cant be compared to the Peter and the Dyke story more like Peter and the Tsunami, its all in place and there is no stopping it, so I just try and embrace and use the technology now and keep my nose clean. Its the children being born in one hundred years or more that I feel for, our way of life will be but a dream, so lets enjoy what we have left. Dont even speak about Big Brother no more, just trying enjoy life.

Don B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don B said...

Interesting aside on this subject. In 2007 there were large scale flash floods in various locations along the Severn Valley. The local authorities used satellite images to assess the extent of the damage to the infrastructure such as roads etc. In the course of this inspection they observed that a number of static caravan sites had a lot more vans on them than they had planning permission for.

FlipC said...

@thomas - that's where the test for "expectation" comes into play. If I'm in my front garden and someone takes a picture they're not seeing anything they wouldn't had they just been walking past on public ground.

On the other hand a high resolution image of the front window that allows a person to zoom in is the equivalent of someone standing there with a pair of binoculars.

The rights of privacy have to be balanced. This is why there was outcry (from those paying attention) when police officers were included in the restriction of imagery (lest it be used by a terrorist to target them). Imagine being unable to take 'identifiable' images of officers performing riot duty?

@Don B - Given the number of inspectors this lack of knowledge doesn't come as a surprise to me, but can we consider this an unpleasant symptom of big brother-ness? Recall the outcry where it was mooted that property values would be assessed via Street View and satellite imagery.