Mums raise privacy alert over drones in backyards

Gavin BoxGeraldton Guardian
VideoGeraldton mums Insa Korth and Indre Asmussen express privacy concerns at drones flying over backyards.

Two Geraldton mothers have raised privacy concerns about the use of drones after they saw them from their backyards.

Insa Korth said drones had flown over her Beachlands neighbourhood about four or five times in the past month.

With drones now freely available, she is concerned about the potential of high-resolution images being captured of private activity in backyards.

“It’s a hot day, the kids (aged four and six) are playing and get undressed to go in the pool,” she said.

“That’s not something that I want other people seeing.”

Ms Korth said there was no way of knowing who was operating drones as they hovered over residential areas.

“They are gone as soon as they arrive,” she said. “Apart from the noise, you have no way of knowing when they are coming.”

Ms Korth’s concerns are shared by friend Indre Asmussen, also of Beachlands, who has a six-year-old daughter.

Dr Asmussen, an ecologist, said she was shocked when she was watering her backyard garden recently and a drone flew overhead.

She said it was only by chance she was not bathing her daughter in their outside bath at the time.

Dr Asmussen supports drone use but says lines must be drawn between privacy and work applications. “They do some fantastic work, with environmental monitoring, for example,” she said.

“If there is a sign at a beach saying there is licensed drone operations to watch for sharks — not people bathing — and there is the opportunity to opt out, then I would be happy with that. But operating a drone over backyards? Where is your choice in the matter?”

In Geraldton, high-definition camera-fitted drones are available for $200 or less, with virtual self-flying models available for several thousand dollars.

One electronics retailer said demand had risen steadily since they came on the market several years ago, mostly from prospectors, farmers and recreational users.

There are safety regulations on drone use, including not flying any closer than 30m from people and never near aircraft.

But a Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman said there were no specific Federal privacy laws relating to drones.

Australian Certified UAV Operators president Joe Urli said there was no recourse or compensation for those who felt their privacy had been breached.

His organisation, which has a membership of about 1000, operates to a code of conduct whereby householders are notified in advance of drone operation and drones are set only to capture images of approved sites.

“What we are seeing nowadays are recreational or non-commercial operators going to, say, (an electronics shop) and buying a drone to spy on their neighbours,” he said. “We frown upon that sort of conduct.”

Mr Urli said it was difficult to combat rogue operators, with some drones capable of being flown from up to 7km away.

He said discussion at a Senate inquiry had suggested mandatory registration of operators and counter-drone technology.

Mr Urli believes the answer is a government, education and community approach.

In the meantime, he suggests people contact CASA or police if they have drone privacy complaints.

The WA Police Minister’s Office said police would take appropriate action if required in relation to privacy complaints about drone use.

Drone safety was thrust into the media spotlight when a woman in Geraldton was struck by one while competing in a triathlon in April, 2014.

Web giant Google uses images of backyards for its maps but a spokeswoman said people could also ask to have images removed.

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