Legal Briefs: Drones And The Law

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Alex Hoffman

With drones becoming less expensive and more widely available, Alex Hoffman of Pierse McCarthy Lucey Solicitors gives the legal low-down on this popular aerial technology…

According to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), there were over 22,000 registered drone owners at the start of March of this year.

That figure is likely to have been pushed even higher over the past few months as many people struggled to find new and inventive ways of amusing themselves during the lockdown – I might not be able to escape these four walls, but the drone can!

Continued below…


While we can all agree that drone footage can be stunning and has been used to great effect by the likes of estate agents to help sell their wares in recent years, with great beauty comes great responsibility.

It is important that drone owners or operators ensure that due consideration is given to peoples’ property and privacy rights.

While the overwhelming majority of drone flights are entirety innocent, there have been reports of drones being allegedly used by criminals to carry out surveillance or recon on target properties, particularly in rural areas.

It is therefore understandable why some might be concerned or unnerved at the sight or hum of a drone, often with no operator in sight.

While current IAA regulations do not impose a minimum height restriction off the ground, nor do they directly address the question of what should be considered private airspace, failure to keep a reasonable and respectful distance from individuals and their properties could risk an infringement into private airspace, which could in turn lead to claims for damages for trespass, nuisance or breach of privacy.

The fact that there may be a bit of a grey area doesn’t mean that landowners should take the law into their own hands, like Kentucky man William Meredith, who was sued by his neighbour for shooting down his $1,500 drone in 2015 and was separately charged with committing criminal mischief.

Ultimately both cases against Meredith were dismissed, which he quickly capitalized on by naming himself “the droneslayer” and releasing a range of droneslayer t-shirts. Only in America!

There are also GDPR and privacy issues to be considered. While the Data Protection Commissioner hasn’t issued specific guidance on the use of drones capable of recording video, many of the issues relevant to dash cams (which I covered in an article for in June of last year) would equally apply to drones.

In particular, users should consider the location in which they use the drone and the possibility of identifying any individuals recorded, and whether or not they are required to comply with certain obligations under data protection law.

Finally, while you might fancy yourself as the next Stephen Spielberg and be tempted to upload your drone footage for all the world to see, extreme care needs to be taken where footage is published or shared on social media platforms, particularly where individuals might be identifiable in the footage. Not everyone loves the camera!

• The material contained in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. No liability whatsoever is accepted by Pierse McCarthy Lucey LLP for any action taken in reliance on the information contained in this article.

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