Swedish DPA to Appeal Rulings On Drone, Dashboard Cameras

Bloomberg Law: Privacy & Data Security brings you single-source access to the expertise of Bloomberg Law’s privacy and data security editorial team, contributing practitioners,...

By Marcus Hoy

May 20 — Whether nonstationary video cameras—such as those attached to vehicle dashboards or to drones—are covered by an existing law on video surveillance is the central issue in three legal appeals filed by the Swedish Data Protection Agency (DPA), an official at the organization told Bloomberg BNA May 20.

DPA Legal Adviser Agneta Runmarker said three recent court rulings have created ambiguity regarding how the nation's Camera Surveillance Act (2013:460) should be applied to cameras mounted on moving vehicles and drones. In all of the cases, the courts ruled the statute didn't apply.

If the DPA is successful in convincing the appeals courts that such cameras should be included within the scope of the law, future commercial operations utilizing the devices could become subject to stricter licensing requirements, she said

Under the law, anyone who wants to set up and operate a security camera targeted at a public place must first apply for a permit from a regional county board. The applicant must demonstrate a legitimate purpose that outweighs privacy interests, such as crime prevention.

However, recent court rulings have concluded that the law doesn't extend to a moving camera fixed to a car's dashboard or a camera mounted on an airborne drone.

Courts Reject Coverage 

On March 17, the Malmo Administrative Court ruled in favor of the chief executive officer of mapping company Mapillary, finding that the places filmed by a dashboard camera used for street imaging didn't constitute surveillance of a specific area.

On April 13, the same court found that a company that wanted to use a drone to film public gardens for commercial purposes wasn't required to apply for a license, as drones have a limited battery life and thus aren't permanent fixtures.

On April 23, the Linkoping Administrative Court ruled that a person using a drone to survey buildings didn't need a license, as the camera wasn't “mounted and targeted at a specific location.”

The DPA will appeal all three rulings, Runmarker said.

Legal Issues 

“The issue at stake is whether the criteria of the Camera Surveillance Act are fulfilled,” Runmarker said. Under the law, “it doesńt matter if it's a cellphone camera or a normal camera as long as it is used to film or photograph and identify people,” she said.

“However, it has to be mounted on something and not operated by hand. In the preparatory works to the act, it states that operating a camera means a continuous handling of the camera,” she said.

“If the camera works automatically, this means that it isn't being operated by hand. It doesn't matter if the camera is mounted on a car, drone or any other vehicle,” Runmarker said.

The use of such devices in Sweden is still relatively rare, she said. Successful appeals by the DPA could lead to a more stringent application of the rules surrounding the practice as it expands, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Marcus Hoy in Copenhagen at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Donald G. Aplin at daplin@bna.com