Seen these new shops popping up at your local Westfield?

You know, the ones that sell these baby spaceships called drones. My goodness I’ve already got two in my local mega mall.
What indeed is all this frenzy about having  a drone?
I know there’s an incessant and never ending hunger for new tech gadgetry in today’s society, but what is the benefit, or perhaps thrill, of actual owning one of these drones.

 Well it turns out that that owning one is more a cheap thrill rather than a benefit (if you know what I mean). Complaints to local councils and police are on the increase from neighbours who feel their privacy has been invaded by this new age sticky beak, and the salacious perks it can provide its’ pilot.

It all reminds me of a flat I lived at in the Sydney CBD many moons ago.
There was a guy that everyone in the complex referred to as “Merv the perv”.  Mervin was apparently a master when it came to spying on his neighbours at all hours of the day and of course, the night. He had two telescopes that never seemed to be pointed to the stars and always seem to have a pair of binoculars at hand when out of his balcony during the day. Residents would often comment on the need to “keep the blinds drawn” or you might end up being the latest prize for old Merv’s wandering eyes.

Alas, the simple advice to keep one’s blinds shut doesn’t seem to translate well in the age of the high tech sticky beak (or perv) with their camera eyed drone.

What can you do if you’re being annoyed or spied on by a drone?

Well I hate to say this but we have some of the weakest privacy laws in the first world and because of this your protection against unauthorised surveillance is limited.

The Privacy Act, for instance, only applies to organisations like big companies or individuals with an annual turnover of $3 million or more. It’s fair to say that most recreational drone owners wouldn’t meet that criteria.  The Act also applies to government to limit them in the information they can collect about us.
The drafters of our wishy washy privacy law seem to have forgotten that neighbours and individuals can also be a real pain and that from time to time and we do sometimes need privacy protection from them.
So unless the drone pilot is working for an organisation or is an individual with at least $3 million in annual revenue, it is not possible for a you and I to take action against an individual drone pilot under the Privacy Act as it currently stands.
Only handy I guess if your privacy is being interfered with by a big corporation or the billionaire next door.

You might like to consider your state based ‘surveillance legislation’ but that can be good, bad or indifferent depending on which state you’re in.  For example, some actions by drone operations can be considered criminal offences. In Queensland, it is illegal to record somebody without their consent if they are in a private place or conducting a private act.
A private act can include showering, going to the toilet, making love or getting dressed. It is also illegal to record somebody in a public place where privacy might be reasonably be expected, such as the change rooms of a public swimming pool.

However in Victoria, taking video footage, without recording audio, of what is happening out in the open in your neighbour’s backyard does not contravene the Surveillance Devices Act.
Go figure eh, and this lack of uniformity state by state on surveillance laws doesn’t make these laws helpful when it comes to the dreaded drones. Check your state based surveillance laws HERE to see whether they will be of any help to you.

 You could also look at whether anti-stalking laws can be applied, but if it’s just a creepy perving neighbour, that won’t be stalking.
The only authorities that will look at complaints in this regard are the police or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 

Pilots of larger drones must be registered
Pilots of commercial drones weighing 2kg or more need to be registered with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and have an operator’s certificate before their unmanned aerial vehicles go zipping through the public airspace.

But with smaller recreational drones – the ones you can now buy at retailers across Australia, no registration is required.
So if it’s a particularly large spaceship hovering over your house or pool, its pilot must be registered.

Does Trespass Apply?
If you want to pursue a civil claim through the courts, and you’ve got the money and the time, trespass is available without having to demonstrate you suffered any loss or damage as a result of any action by either the drone or its operator.
Trespass involves an interference with your rights to ‘private enjoyment’ to land (which includes your house and the land around it, like a backyard or acreage).
To prove a trespass you have to be able to prove the following:
Exclusive possession – this usually means that you are living or staying on the land and are lawfully able to stop other people from entering. Owners, renters and boarders are generally in exclusive possession. If the area is a public place such as a park next to your house, you may not have exclusive possession over the park.
Land – this includes the space above and below the physical ground. So a drone that repeatedly flies over your house can be a trespass unless it flies so high that it is unnoticeable.
Intentional or negligent – to be a trespass, the interference has to be either deliberate or careless (meaning the person was negligent). This depends on the actions of the drone operator and what you observe the drone doing.
Interference – this means that a trespass has to occur ‘directly’ and cannot be a result of something else happening. You also have to prove that the interference was unreasonable or that it continues to interrupt your normal enjoyment. A drone that flies over your house, hovers around your windows or breaches your privacy would probably be found to be unreasonable.

Under what circumstances can you complain to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority?
Well if the drone…
♦ was flying close to people or 
♦ flew over the top of you or
♦ was flying near an airport or
♦ was flying near a helicopter landing site or
♦ was flying at night or in fog or
♦ you believe the person flying the drone couldn’t see it or
♦ the drone was flying too high (above 120 metres)

Then CASA can handle this through their online complaint service. They are not interested in complaints about a drone’s noise (local council for that one) or sticky beak things. 
Here’s the LINK to file a complaint.

And finally if you think a drone is being piloted with little regard to the safety of your good self (or your fellow citizens), here are the rules for drone pilots:

• You must not fly your drone higher than 120 metres (400 ft) above the ground.
• You must not fly your drone over or near an area affecting public safety or where emergency operations are underway (without prior approval). This could include situations such as a car crash, police operations, a fire and associated firefighting efforts, and search and rescue operations.
• You must not fly your drone within 30 metres of people, unless the other person is part of controlling or navigating the drone.
• You must fly only one drone at a time.

If your drone weighs more than 100 grams:

• You must keep your drone at least 5.5km away from controlled aerodromes (usually those with a control tower)
• You may fly within 5.5km of a non-controlled aerodrome or helicopter landing site (HLS) only if manned aircraft are not operating to or from the aerodrome. 
• You must only fly during the day and keep your drone within visual line-of sight.
This means being able to orientate, navigate and see the aircraft with your own eyes at all times (rather than through a device; for example, through goggles or on a video screen).
• You must not fly over or above people. This could include festivals, sporting ovals, populated beaches, parks, busy roads and footpaths.
• You must not operate your drone in a way that creates a hazard to another aircraft, person, or property
• You must not operate your drone in prohibited or restricted areas.

So the next time you’re out by the pool and you suddenly find a mini spaceship giving you a wink, you’ve got all the information to work out what is best to do.
Of course you could also have a chat to your neighbour as to why they find your speedos so fascinating.


Noisy dogs? Crazy neighbours? Bad smells next door? Tree problems?
Find out more about dealing with difficult neighbours

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Written by The Legal Eagle