Some months ago, the skies over Halifax began to play host to a new visitor: a 1.2-kilogram drone equipped with a video camera that hovered over some of the city’s most popular spots: the waterfront, Citadel Hill, McNab’s Island. Its electronic eye was drinking it all in taking sweeping panaromic shots.
Was this, perhaps, the work of some shadowy intelligence-gathering organization bent on snooping on unsuspecting citizenry?
Nope. The drone belonged to David Fraser, a specialist in privacy law at McInnes Cooper and author of the Canadian Privacy Law Blog. Fraser, an avid amateur photographer, says he more recently felt a desire to photograph from a more unusual and engaging perspective. After coming across drone footage and being “blown away” by its helicopter-like views, he decided to shell out for an inexpensive (US$999) camera-equipped drone of his own.
“I’ve been having a great time with it ever since,” he says.
Fraser has posted some of his videos on YouTube, and they’ve attracted some media attention. To some, the nature of his hobby seems ironic given the area of law he’s devoted himself to. But Fraser doesn’t see his drone videography as a threat to anyone’s privacy.
With his drone’s relatively basic camera, he says, “you’re not zooming in on people, you’re not hovering off in the distance and being able to kind of peek at people or something like that, and it makes enough noise so that if you were to get close enough to somebody in order to do something creepy, they would hear it. So it’s not a covert surveillance piece of equipment by any means.”
And Fraser himself, he says, is mainly interested in capturing the landscape anyway, not people.
Given the newness of the technology, however, he does see why some people might be concerned.
“I am mindful of the fact that when people see something like this they don’t know what its capabilities are,” he says.
Amateur drone videography is not covered by privacy laws such as the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act or the Privacy Act, he says, although people who use it to invade the privacy of others or engage in voyeurism can be sued or charged under the Criminal Code just as ordinary camera-wielders can.
With drones likely to become increasingly common in the near future, Fraser says, there may be calls for legislation governing their use. But he thinks such legislation would be both unnecessary and problematic.
“Any time you have a new technology that’s introduced . . . you have what seems an automatic techno-panic that imagines all the worst-case scenarios.
“When you legislate in an environment of techno-panic, you end up going too far. I have a Charter-protected right to take photos in a public place. Any law that regulates how I can take photos in a public place has to be able to withstand Charter scrutiny.”