Drones and the UK Privacy Law

Why Privacy Matters and a Sensible Approach from Drone Operators

We are asked lots of questions about ‘invasion of privacy” or ‘how can I respect the privacy of others” whilst either teaching drone flying or from general enquiries. The UK is very clear and advanced in its approach to privacy rules and the protection of privacy. If you notice the UK police forces, for example are ‘Surveillance Camera Code Compliant’ following Home Office regulatory guidance Pursuant to Section 30 (1) (a) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012:

UK Government Surveillance Camera Code of Practice

Information Commissioners Office (ICO)

The following is an extract from the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO):

The ICO recommends that users of drones – also called unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – with cameras should operate them in a responsible way to respect the privacy of others.

Are drones covered by the Data Protection Act (DPA)? If a drone has a camera, its use has the potential to be covered by the DPA.

Is it OK to use drones with cameras? If you are using a drone with a camera, there could be a privacy risk to other people. Follow our tips below to help ensure you respect people’s privacy when using your drone.

Tips on the responsible use of drones

  • Let people know before you start recording. In some scenarios this is going to be quite easy because you will know everyone within close view (for example, if you are taking a group photo at a family barbeque). In other scenarios, for example at the beach or the park, this is going to be much more difficult so you’ll need to apply some common sense before you start.
  • Consider your surroundings. If you are recording images beyond your home, a drone may intrude on the privacy of others where they expect their privacy to be respected (such as in their back garden). It is unlikely that you would want a drone to be hovering outside your window so be considerate to others and don’t hover outside theirs.
  • Get to know your camera first. It is a good idea to get to know the capability of your camera in a controlled situation to understand how it works. What is the quality of the image? How powerful is the zoom? Can you control when it starts and stops recording? Drone cameras are capable of taking unusual and creative pictures from original vantage points. Knowing the capabilities of your camera will help you to reduce the risk of privacy intrusion.
  • Plan your flight. Your drone’s battery life is likely to be short. By understanding its capabilities you will be able to make best use of its flight and it will be easier to plan how to avoid invading the privacy of other people. For example, it may be more privacy-friendly to launch from a different location rather than flying close to other people or their property.
  • Keep you and your drone in view. You won’t want to lose it, and if you are clearly visible then it will be easier for members of the public to know that you are the person responsible for the drone.
  • Think before sharing. Once your drone has landed, think carefully about who’s going to be looking at the images, particularly if you’re thinking about posting them on social media. Avoid sharing images that could have unfair or harmful consequences. Apply the same common sense approach that you would with images or video recorded by a smartphone or digital camera.
  • Keep the images safe. The images you have taken may be saved on an SD card or USB drive attached to the drone or the camera. If they are not necessary, then don’t keep them. If you do want to keep them, then make sure they are kept in a safe place.

ICO Drones Advice



The best thing to assume is that the average person watching you fly is not going to know whether you have a camera fitted and whether your are filming or taking pictures. Therefore, plan to answer the question when it arises and be professional in your response being helpful and polite about what you are doing . This should include, if asked, letting them know what procedure they should follow if they want a copy of your images of them or their property if you have any!

In brief – what is an individual entitled to?

Images of people are covered by the Data Protection Act, and so is information about people which is derived from images – for example, vehicle registration numbers. Most uses of CCTV by organisations or businesses will be covered by the Act, regardless of the number of cameras or how sophisticated the equipment is.

The Information Commissioner’s Office(ICO) issued its first code of practice under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) covering the use of CCTV in 2000. The code was developed to explain the legal requirements operators of surveillance cameras were required to meet under the Act and promote best practice. The code also addressed the inconsistent standards adopted across different sectors at that time and the growing public concern caused by the increasing use of CCTV and other types of surveillance cameras.

Read this CCTV Code of Practice CCTV Code of Practice Paragraph 7.3 and the use of drones.