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Breach of privacy?: Recreational drone lingers over people's yards in Kamloops neighbourhood

Hummingbird Drones is a company in Kamloops that uses drones and technology to locate hotspots on wildfires.
Hummingbird Drones is a company in Kamloops that uses drones and technology to locate hotspots on wildfires.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Hummingbird Drones

A couple living on Kamloops' North Shore reported a recreational drone was hovering around their house and property a couple of days ago.

Jimmy Folinsbee said his wife went out at 5:45 a.m., March 24, to take their dogs out when she saw the drone moving slowly across the yard and neighbouring yards.

The same drone appeared doing the same thing the following morning and the couple reported the incidents to RCMP.

“It looked like it could be scoping out people’s yards,” Folinsbee said. “We don’t know the rules (for drones) very well, we’re just hoping the RCMP follow up on it. There’s not much more I can tell or say other than that.”

After he posted about the incident on social media, several responses suggested throwing rocks at the drone, but an instructor working for Hummingbird Drones in Kamloops advised against it.

“Don’t throw rocks or use a slingshot, to the government it’s the same thing as shooting a gun at an airplane,” Cory Lee said. “That would not be the right thing to do and could get you into legal trouble.”

Lee said the privacy rules around individuals operating recreational drones are not clear cut.

Drone operators are supposed to follow privacy guidelines and either take steps to avoid capturing personal information or getting consent first.

“Legally it gets sticky, there's really no clear guidance on any level of government,” Lee said. “Landowners and homeowners don’t own the airspace over their property. An individual has a right to fly a drone in uncontrolled air spaces.”

Lee said there are privacy laws against drones being used to cause mischief, purposefully annoy someone, and for voyeurism.

“People have the right to expect privacy in their own home and yard so if someone is using a drone to purposefully look at someone or take photos or videos of someone, they have a right to privacy.”

Individual drone operators caught breaking privacy laws could face criminal charges but the fines and penalties vary based on the violation and jurisdiction. 

Lee said homeowners who suspect a drone is breaking these laws should report the incident to their local RCMP and to Transport Canada through their online report form. Transport Canada is the federal authority governing drones. 

“This behaviour gives all of us drone pilots are bad name, it’s super frustrating,” he said. "It's part of the culture to conform to regulations, when you get bad actors operating outside of the rules it's bad for everybody."

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Laws for businesses operating drones are more strict and clearly defined and they must follow an act called the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

“A business must obtain permission to collect personal information on people, addresses and properties and there are specific requirements to follow,” Lee said. “Businesses have to conform to that privacy law but it doesn’t apply to private individuals.”

Some recreational drones won’t operate unless an access code is input in them that proves the operator has permission to fly in a certain area but Lee said it's easy to remove that barrier. 

“Most of the time it’s just a matter of turning that setting off the drone or contacting the manufacturer to get that function turned off.”

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Lee lives in Victoria and is an advanced operations specialist and lead trainer with Hummingbird Drones. He directs a school called FlySmart that teaches online courses on how to fly drones safely and get proper licensing.

Hummingbird Drones is located in Kamloops and the company specializes in advanced drone and GIS technology.

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