VANCOUVER —; Drones are taking off around the province, but as they soar above the skies, so too do the privacy concerns raised by the unmanned aircraft.
Two Victoria women recently had firsthand experience with just how unfriendly the future may be. Julie French and Serena Lee spotted a drone hovering just outside the window-line of Lee’s second story apartment.
“For me, it’s almost the equivalent of someone being that same distance away in the bushes staring in with a camera or a video camera. It doesn’t matter to me that the person operating the drone was actually kilometres away. They still have the eye that’s looking that close,” Lee told Global News.
“No matter where you are in a building, you have to be afraid now that people can see in right by the window line of where you are. It’s not a good feeling,” said French.
Vancouver Police say they have received about a dozen complaints about drones in recent months, however most are not investigated. There needs to be evidence that shows criminal intent in order for the police to get involved, said Constable Brian Montague. However, if someone was caught leering in on a private resident with a drone, he/she could face potential charges of mischief, criminal harassment or voyeurism.
Commercial drones, or unmanned air vehicles, are regulated by Transport Canada, through the Canadian Aviation Regulations. But hobby drones, otherwise defined as model aircraft, aren’t caught by these regulations, and as such, are falling through some major legal loopholes.
“The technology has hurdled ahead,” Micheal Vonn, a lawyer and policy director at the BC Civil Liberties Association, told Global News, which leaves lawmakers scrambling to figure out what they are going to do about it, she says.
With respect to criminal and civil prosecutions involving drones, there are some big logistical concerns, Vonn explained. Since hobby drones aren’t licensed or regulated, tracking down the person behind the machine becomes next to impossible. “There’s no license plate on drones and if there were it would be very small,” she joked.
Regulating hobby drones through spacial zoning laws or enacting personal data protection laws could be equally difficult, said Vonn. “We would certainly want to think cautiously before we went anywhere near that…”
The BCCLA isn’t currently working on any active cases about the personal use of hobby drones, but they are examining the balance of rights when government and police employ the technology.
“Some of this is new and some is not,” said Vonn. “I think part of this is that people have a visceral reaction to drones. Even if it was your neighbor with a telephoto lens (spying on you), you’d at least know the apartment it’s coming from.”
–With files from Aaron McArthur.