Civilian Drones: Privacy Challenges and Potential Resolution

Civilian Drones: Privacy Challenges and Potential Resolution

20 September 2019

This paper, authored as part of the New America US-India Public Interest Technologies Fellowship 2019, examines the privacy implications of drones in civilian airspaces. Though a technology with significant benefits, drones can also carry out extensive snooping and surveillance. As India transitions to a regulatory ecosystem supportive of drone technology, it is imperative that the attention of policy makers be directed to the various privacy harms that lie in store. 

Here, the different kinds of harms are mapped into two: traditional privacy challenges arising from a spatial invasion by drones into private spaces, and big data risks on account of the business models that the drone industry has paved the path for. Dealing with the first category of risks, the paper argues that serious criminal enforcement, along the lines of what some States in the United States have pursued, is imperative to safeguard the private domain from the prying eyes of third parties. It also points out serious gaps in Indian constitutional jurisprudence when it comes to structural interventions like drone surveillance, and recommends an overall assessment of the impact on privacy baseline from such technologies when the judiciary evaluates their legality against the touchstone of the fundamental right to privacy. On the second kind of risk, the paper argues for privacy dashboards that help citizens evaluate the purpose of drone operations and assess whether equipments retrofitted alongside the drone are truly required to fulfil these purposes or merely meant to gather unrestricted amount of personal and community data.