Sweden, usually viewed as forward thinking and innovative, has now effectively banned camera drones. A decision by the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court (which can be read here in Swedish) places photos taken by drones in the same category as heavily regulated surveillance cameras. As camera drones could be used for the illegal capture of personal information, drone operators of any type are now required to get a special permit to fly a camera drone. Technically, an operator would be required to prove that the images captured would be used to prevent theft or crime: difficult to do relative to the majority of drone applications. There is no exemption for commercial or journalistic applications.
In a seeming inconsistency, the court ruled that cameras carried on a bike, motorcycle, or helmet do not require a similar permit as they are in the same location as the operator, while drones are not.
Practically, this will now mean that provincial authorities will have to issue authorizations for camera drones on a case by case basis; something that Swedish drone operators say will be expensive and no easy task. The drone community has widely criticized the decision. Drone operators including journalists, marketing and advertising photographers, and search and rescue personnel have all complained that the new law will close businesses. Industry group UAS Sweden says that they have put together a plan to force lawmakers to recognize the damage that the law will do to the industry, which employs thousands of people and is worth billions of kroner. They estimate that over 3,000 jobs will be lost as a result of the ruling.
Operators comment that it seems enforcement of the new ruling will be difficult. Provincial authorities will have to report violations to the police, who may have a difficult time proving an infraction after the fact. Professionals complain that this may make it easy for recreational drone operators to ignore the ruling, while punishing professionals who may have valid reasons for taking aerial images.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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