Peeping incidents among drone-related complaints made to Civil Aviation Authority

Drones have been blamed for a number of peeping incidents, information from Civil Aviation shows.
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Drones have been blamed for a number of peeping incidents, information from Civil Aviation shows.

Tech-savvy peeping Toms are taking to the skies to peer into people's homes using drones.

Peeping and peering incidents involving drones figure numerous times in information on drone-related incidents released by the Civil Aviation Authority under the Official Information Act 

The incidents feature the machines, which can carry cameras, hovering outside homes at night, and sometimes targeting several neighbouring properties in succession. 

Wellington barrister Stephen Iorns says legislation has some catching up to be effective in holding drone pilots to account.

Wellington barrister Stephen Iorns says legislation has some catching up to be effective in holding drone pilots to account.

But a legal expert is warning that victims have very few means of defending their privacy from prying drones, especially if they cannot identify its pilot.

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The report comes as the high-flying technology drops in price, with video-ready drones becoming much cheaper.

In a typical incident from the CAA report, a Christchurch resident reported a drone flying close to their window one night last May.

"Complainant closed curtains and soon afterwards the [drone] moved to the neighbouring property," the file notes.

A Petone, Lower Hutt resident complained in April this year about a drone appearing at night over homes and "hovering around windows of houses at close proximity".

Another, in Auckland in December, also had a drone over their property.

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"I noticed it then go and hover over at least three of our neighbours' properties."

CAA has released rules for drones, acknowledging: "Aviation regulators around the world are grappling with how to integrate [drones] into existing aviation safety systems".

Those rules include provisions not to fly at night, to get consent from anyone you want to fly above, and to get permission before flying over properties.

But Wellington barrister Stephen Iorns said there were currently very few criminal charges that could be laid if someone broke the authority's rules. 

"It's only a criminal offence under the Crimes Act if someone is naked or engaged in intimate behaviour," he said.

"There might be a civil breach, but if they are just hovering around someone's house, current law falls short.

"Legislation hasn't caught up with the technology, both in drones and other mediums of technology." 

Peeping and peering into a dwelling at night without reasonable excuse was an offence under current law, but Iorns said it would be up to the courts to decide whether this stretched to cameras.

It left people who had reasonable expectations of privacy with very little power, Iorns said.

"The Privacy Commissioner can't investigate without [someone] identifying who the party who did the filming is." 

And the Privacy Commission did not have the power to issue fines.

Instead, victims would have to go through the Human Rights Tribunal for that, but only once their complaint had been investigated by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

You can't shoot it out of the sky either, because then you'd be liable for wilful property damage, Iorns said.

Model Flying New Zealand secretary Des Richards said some of the reported incidents could have innocent explanations, such as people filming a sunset but accidentally hovering outside a window.

Members of the flying club were well-trained in where to fly, but many non-members simply picked up a "toy version" and flew it with no knowledge of the rules.

"We have no way of getting to them."

A drone, complete with video camera, could be picked up for about $800, Richards said.

To date the Privacy Commissioner has completed just one drone-related investigation. 

In that case a Sky TV operator was filming a cricket match but flew a drone within 10m of a man's apartment.

The man gave the fingers to the drone and complained it "may have captured highly sensitive information in an unreasonably intrusive manner".

Sky TV said the drone had flown past the apartment but it had not recorded or broadcast images of the complainant, or the inside of his property.

No privacy breach was found.

 - Stuff

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