Many people are wary and suspicious of drones. Businesses can become concerned about their privacy and security and there are general concerns about trespass, and safety. There are also public safety issues, such as those arising from the drone sightings at Gatwick Airport in 2018.
The law is catching up, and there is increased regulation in the area, but drone users are still free to fly over both commercial and residential properties.
Regulations and laws concerning drone use
Drones, if not used responsibly, can be dangerous. Therefore, the Civil Aviation Authority regulates their safe use. From 30th November 2019, it became a legal requirement for anyone owning and/or flying a drone to obtain a flyer ID by completing online training and a test, register for an operator ID and label any drone they’re responsible for with that ID. Responsible drone users are also required to keep their drone in sight at all times.
Flight area restrictions and the laws on trespass require them to fly a minimum height of 150 meters above congested areas and no closer than 50 meters to people, vehicles and structures that are not under their own control. The Civil Aviation Act goes further, specifying that an unmanned aircraft, if flown over residential property, should be at a height which is reasonable and does not interfere with another person’s ordinary use and enjoyment of their own land.
Consequences of breach
Some of the regulations, especially those in relation to safety, carry criminal penalties if breached. The Civil Aviation Authority also have the power to impose fines if the regulations are not being followed.
This is exactly what happened when a drone pilot was prosecuted after flying drones over Premier League football stadiums to watch the football. The man in question admitted nine breaches of taking video over various football grounds across the UK in 2014 and was fined £1,800.
However, while the regulations impose some controls on those who fly drones, they do not meet the wider concerns about individual privacy, for example where drones fly over homes and gardens.
There is other help available to those who suffer problems with drones, but it is necessary to trace the owner of the drone. This is often very difficult, if not impossible.
Images of people, and other information (such as vehicle registration numbers), are covered by the Data Protection Act 1998. However, the legislation does not necessarily prevent the user from being in possession of the material, although it does regulate the use of that information and impose duties on the users towards the owner of the data.
If you suspect that a drone is taking pictures of you and your property, you should report it to the Information Commissioners Office.
More broadly, civil laws afford those whose privacy or property has been invaded by a drone to seek remedies against its pilot. If an individual pilot can be identified, then claims can be brought in a number of ways.
The civil law recognises claims for breach of privacy. Court orders can be obtained to prevent drone users from using information, compel them to destroy it, and/or compensate that person for the damage suffered as a result of the breach of their privacy.
Persistent over flying might also amount to a civil nuisance, and other actions might give rise to a claim in trespass and an award of damages.
In some cases, the Court might also consider granting injunctions to restrict the further use of a drone to prevent a problem re-occurring. Each case is dependent on its individual circumstances.
If you do see a drone that is clearly not compliant with the laws and regulations, for example the drone is flying too low, or it is obviously unsafe, you should report it to the Police or to the Civil Aviation Authority.
If a drone is causing a nuisance and you are concerned about an invasion of your privacy then provided you can identify the pilot you may wish to seek legal advice on your civil law options.
Kristina Ford is a Trainee Solicitor at Nelsons.
If you would like any advice in relation to the subjects discussed in this article, please contact Kristina or another member of our Dispute Resolution team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.