Sweden to Ease Drone Camera Privacy Restrictions

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By Marcus Hoy

Swedish companies soon will no longer have to apply for permits before flying drones equipped with cameras, under changes to the country’s privacy rules.

Under the existing rules, permission to fly camera-equipped drones is only granted if the risk of privacy violations is minimized. The new rules exempt companies from the camera-equipped drone permit requirement. Government agencies aren’t included in the new exemption.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Sweden, an industry group representing professional drone operators, welcomed the change. “We are very pleased with the amendments to the existing Camera Surveillance Act,” Johan Lindqvist, secretary of UAS Sweden, told Bloomberg BNA July 20.

The change, which was opposed by Sweden’s privacy regulator, will be implemented through an amendment to the nation’s Camera Surveillance Act. The amendment takes effect Aug. 1. According to the government, the new rules will significantly reduce bureaucratic compliance demands for companies.

Between 2016 and 2020, Goldman Sachs says drones present a "$100 billion market opportunity.” Real estate, movie production and other entertainment media, and agricultural companies all rely on camera-equipped drones would benefit from the change in Swedish law.

Privacy Issues

Swedish privacy office Deputy Director General Agneta Runmarker told Bloomberg BNA July 20 that the office opposed the new drone rules. Drones can represent a significant privacy risk due to their mobility and monitoring capacities, she said. Unlike the detection of fixed surveillance cameras, individuals may have difficulty detecting their presence, she said.

“A lot of countries within the EU don’t have a special camera surveillance act” but instead they follow their general privacy statute, Runmarker said. Despite the new permit exemption, companies will still be subject to the general privacy rules of the Swedish Personal Data Act and other Swedish privacy laws. The person responsible for filming must make an individual assessment of whether using a camera-equipped drone may violate the privacy laws, the office said in a statement. Relevant factors include the purpose and the need for filming, how long the data is saved, and who will have access to the recorded material, the privacy office said.

Many smaller drone companies have “already gone out of business due to” the Swedish privacy office’s stance on the law, Lindqvist said. “Hopefully the Swedish Government will in the future view the legal framework governing UAS as a cornerstone in developing Swedish technology worldwide, as opposed to a means of putting UAS services out of business,” he said.

There may yet be changes to how Sweden implements aspects of a proposed European Union drone regulation from the European Aviation Safety Agency. The proposal takes security and privacy concerns into account when categorizing risks.

In considering the proposed EU regulation, the government should provide the Swedish privacy office with guidance “that will help companies rather than hinder them,” Lindqvist said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Donald Aplin in Washington at daplin@bna.com

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

For More Information

Text of the amendment to the Camera Surveillance Act is available, in Swedish, at http://src.bna.com/qW0.

The proposed EU drone regulation is available at http://src.bna.com/qX8.

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